Leaving Time by Jodi Picoult

Final Ruling: 4.99999/5 stars

I have literally been so fortunate to have read so many amazing books in the past few months. So, I’m sorry if you were looking for more snark, but I  adored this book. Seriously, I don’t know how I will ever ever find another book that measures up to this one. Now, there was one bad thing that I just couldn’t get past (hence the rating). Other than that I loved this book so much I can’t get over it. I know I use ‘take my breath away’ a lot on here when it comes to good books, but in this case, it literally stole the air from my lungs, I was breathing hard and it took a good 10 minutes for my heartbeat to come back down to normal. It was that good.

(Your friendly neighborhood reminder that italics mean spoilers, so if you don’t want to see the spoilers, please don’t read the italics)

I am convinced, like legitimately convinced, that I will never ever read a book as good as this one was ever again (aside from the one unfortunate thing, but those are just details). As I said, the plot twist literally stole the air from my lungs, it was so so so so unexpected and spectacular. The characters were vivid, the plot was amazing, and the backdrop of the elephant sanctuary was absolutely and completely perfect.

(CAUTION: spoilers ahead)

Okay, so I’ll admit here and now that I have a soft spot for psychics, I really do. Even aside from that, I absolutely and completely adored Serenity. Like seriously. Her take on life is so unique and the fact that she didn’t believe in herself in the beginning but ended up going on this amazing journey to self-discovery that allows her to realize that she is talented and that she is worth something. Even though there were so many signs pointing up to this, I really didn’t see the plot twist that they were all dead coming. It totally blindsided me, hit me like a punch to the gut. 

(spoilers over)

Now, being me, the real draw of this book was the fact that it was centered around a group of animal behaviorists. I am so amazingly interested in that field of study, and to finally read a book that centers around them just makes me so incredibly happy. You can say all the bad things you want about Jodi Picoult, but that gal sure does her research. I really did feel transported into the world of psychics and behaviorists, of elephants and mental illnesses. The people at that reserve really did care about their animals, really did see them as their own children, as actual living beings with thoughts and feelings (which, let’s be real, doesn’t happen in the scientific world). To see somebody finally giving credit to the hidden emotions of animals really warmed my heart, and made this book that much better for me. The bond between humans and animals is so amazing, especially if those animals happen to be abused and subsequently healed alongside such wonderful and kind-hearted humans.

(CAUTION: spoilers ahead)

Alice definitely has to be my favorite character in this story, she is compassionate and strong and quirky and curious. Honestly, I see a lot of myself in her. She is breathtaking. I can’t even describe it, you’ll just have to read the book to discover just how great Alice Metcalf is. Her love and affection for those elephants all throughout the book warms my very soul. She did what so many people in the scientific community are too afraid to: she recognized grief and struggling, and she actually did something to make life better for those sweet elephants. I love pretty much everything about her… except for the one thing that forced me to lower my rating.

Call me quirky, but I hate hate hate books that have cheating in them, it just makes me feel gross inside. It really isn’t okay. The book was so beautiful and wonderful and really could have done without all of the cheating, on both Alice and Gideon’s part. It made me sick to my stomach, there were so many things that would lead to pretty much the same outcome, it just seemed unnecessary to me. 

Finally, there was that plot twist. That plot twist. I really did not see that coming, though looking back now, I can see that there were so so so many instances of foreshadowing it really was a miracle that I didn’t figure it out sooner, I usually do. I still am trying to wrap my head around the fact that both Virgil and Jenna were dead the whole freakin time. What even. After the initial shock, I found out that I really did like the implications of that, that the Gift is scattered throughout the world, that not everybody realizes it, and that more people are Gifted than anybody could ever actually know. I love it. 

(spoilers over)

I would recommend this to anybody and everybody, because the plot is seriously mind-bending, and the thoughts provoked will seriously take your breath away. Happy reading!

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My Sister’s Keeper by Jodi Picoult

Final Ruling: 5/5 stars

Okay, let me preface this with the fact that I don’t usually read books like this. Like at all. But somehow, I found myself devouring this book with ardor. Okay, so I know that there are a lot of mixed feelings out there about this book and its ending, but I am so passionate in my love for this story, that I cannot possibly think of this work negatively. The moral grey area, the impossible questions, the vivid characters, and the intense plot lines all come together to form a supernova of a story that I seriously could not put down.

Let’s start with the moral grey areas that make up the whole premise of the book: a catch-22 in which saving one sister kills the other. It is an impossible choice that the Fitzgerald parents have to make when their daughter Anna confronts them with a lawsuit stating that she absolutely refuses to be torn apart to save her sister anymore, which is what she literally was born to do. This, of course, brings up a plethora of moral issues, the most evident to me being, is the idea of a “spare parts baby” okay? Is designing a child to tear apart in order to save another really something that we can condone? How far is too far when it comes to saving a child? If the circumstances are severe enough, is euthanasia a viable option? All of these qualms and more are brought up within the pages of My Sister’s Keeper. Picoult beautifully sets the scene: a family of 5, struggling through the fact that one of their children has an extremely aggressive form of leukemia. Against this background, she gives the reader all of the facts, and allows them to draw their own conclusions about the issue. The points of view are evenly distributed through the cast of characters, and the author shows no obvious preference for anybody, effectively allowing the reader to take whatever side they choose and follow their views on the issue all the way to the end of the story. It is truly a rare piece of literature that does not show clear bias and allows the reader to draw their own conclusions. Now, this blog is not in any way, a soap-box, so my personal feelings on the issue don’t really matter here; what matters is the fact that Picoult steps aside and allows the reader to make their own informed decision, which is truly an amazing thing. Kudos to Miss Jodi for putting something like this out into the world, teaching people not only about the illness that Kate is suffering from, but also about the legal process when it comes to situations like this, and the emotional truth of all the people involved, not just the “main character”.

Okay, enough about that, let’s get down to the most controversial element of the piece: that plot twist. If you don’t want spoilers, please please please skip the following paragraph (typed in italics), I don’t want to ruin anybody’s reading experience (I know I would hate to have it ruined).

Okay, time to get down to it! that plot twist was completely unexpected, shocking, and (I’m not afraid to say) made me cry, like the ugly bawling kind of crying. The way that it was introduced was such an epic slap in the face, I couldn’t breathe after I read it. Seriously, my mom was sitting next to me and I made this like choked squeak noise and she totally freaked out, thinking something had happened to me. And my goodness did it ever. It was a total shock. Now that I look back on it, the entire novel kind of set the scene for the ending. Brian, Anna and Kate’s father, was the one to find them. He is a firefighter, and throughout the book, he is called in via radio to tend to big car crashes, so when he is called away from the hospital for yet another MVC, it seems completely normal. Up until the time he crawls into the car to save those involved in the crash, he doesn’t even know it is his daughter Anna, riding in the passenger seat with her lawyer, who has fallen victim to the whims of the universe. After that, he falls apart, seriously falls apart, as does Campbell, the lawyer, who by some miracle survived the crash while Anna did not. It was heartbreaking to read, absolutely and completely heartbreaking. So, with Anna’s brain death following the crash, she does end up surrendering her kidney, which she fought so hard to keep from her sister (hence the lawyer and separate living and everything). Anyways, the kidney does end up saving Kate’s life, and she goes on to live that life very happily. From the very beginning, I knew that one of the sisters would die, I just expected it to be Kate. So when Anna was the one to die, it totally blindsided me. Now, some people call the author’s decision to kill Anna and give Kate the kidney anyways, regardless of the fact that Anna did win the case, a cop-out. But, in fact, it is the opposite. It allows the reader, whatever side they decided to be on, draw the same conclusion, as well as begin to embrace the concept of inevitability and fate. Perhaps Anna was meant to be nothing more than a spare parts child, perhaps she was meant to give her kidney so that Kate could live, perhaps when it looked like she would not give said kidney, the universe interfered. 

I would recommend this book to anybody with an open heart and mind, anybody not afraid of seeing an issue from both sides and drawing their own conclusions without the guidance of the author.

 

The Storyteller by Jodi Picoult

Final Ruling: 3/5 stars

Can I just say… wow. This book left me pretty speechless, as does anything I read containing such sensitive and heartbreaking material. It did break my heart to give this book less than five stars…but alas, I cannot compromise my integrity. Picoult’s writing is so gorgeous, and most of the book is absolutely phenomenal, but it is the first 25% of the book is very slow-moving, very “meh”. And here’s why:

Okay, so let’s get the not-so-amazing stuff out of the way. Quite honestly, I think that this book could have done without that first 25%. I get that Picoult needed a reason for Minka to tell her story, but the way she did it felt kind of like a cop-out, not to mention rushed and pretty glossed over. Sage is a sweet reclusive darling, and she is given an injury purely to create unnecessary intrigue which this book could truly do without. It takes away from the main story and the main point that Picoult is trying to get across. And in the end, the explanation for that injury and Sage’s reclusive nature was very very rushed, and felt more like an afterthought, one that took away from the actual story. In addition, the romance in the book is also what took away from the wonderful core of the novel. It was very unnecessary, very distracting, and very rushed through. It seemed to only stroke Sage’s ego and give her something to gossip  with Mary about. Not to mention the entire idea of the “Jesus loaf” taking center stage, when it just took away (yet again), from the heart-wrenching tale of a Holocaust survivor and the people surrounding her.

Now onto more positive things. Aside from Sage and her story, which I explained in the previous paragraph, the story was breathtakingly beautiful. It brought me close to tears. Minka’s story was beautiful at times, was hopeful at times, was agonizing at times, and, like the life they lived, was truly grotesque. That which she endured in that horrific place is truly too heartbreaking for words. But, in the face of all of that misery, there was Minka and her stories. She told them at night to the other girls in her compound when they were sad or in pain, as an escape from the awful world they lived in. Her allegorical story was beautiful and well written, and earned her the title of “The Storyteller”. It continued on as she was forced from Germany into the ghetto, from the ghetto to the concentration camp, from working as a manual laborer to working as a secretary because of her education, from someone to be kicked around to somebody to be admired for her strength, her perseverance, her stories. In fact, it was her stories that saved her from being killed. One of the guards in the camp, one who did not agree with his fellow Nazis, one whose name was Franz, whisked her away from the depths of the miserable camp and gave her a job as his secretary and saved her life countless times. It was actually sweet how much he cared about her.

Okay, apart from the riveting plot, there was the moral issues raised, serious questions that really made you think. Like what. For instance, the most pressing moral questions were raised by the character of Franz, the scholarly German who wanted to be anything but a Nazi. He took Minska, saved her life, and gave her purpose; but did those good acts really cancel out everything he was forced to do in the name of the Third Reich? Did his unwillingness to comply and quiet rebellion really redeem him? Or did the sins of his brothers seep into his being simply because he joined the movement in self-preservation?

It was heartbreaking to read about Minka in Auschwitz, but it was truly sickening to hear about the man Sage’s supposed friend Josef claimed to be, which was Franz’s cruel and sadistic brother Reiner. However, by the end of the book, it is told in a tear-jerking reveal, that he is sweet and caring Franz, come to pay for the sins of his entire party by requesting that Sage help him die. In his plea, Sage and the reader are forced to contemplate the nature of forgiveness, something that I have realized is not as simple and clean-cut as I had come into this book thinking it was.

I would recommend this book to anybody with a soft spot for historical fiction, the strong ties of friendship, and evocative images that make you question the very foundation of your moral code. However, I would not recommend this to anybody easily distracted or frustrated by pointless and shallow plot lines, which this book seems to have in excess.