‘It’s hard to exaggerate how well Picoult writes‘ – this is what sold the book to me, written in beautiful calligraphy on the cover page of Jodi Picoult’s #1 New York Times bestseller. I actually found this book on the shelf of a Charity Shop whilst shopping around for the perfect book gift for my boyfriend who was just finishing one of his sports-related book. I ended up reading it myself because the plot caught my attention before being able to pass it to him. This book was one that found me and I had to read it and in light of recent events, I think everyone should read it too.
Ruth Jefferson is a very experienced Labour and Delivery nurse, continuously pushing to exceed limits imposed on her by the society due to her skin colour. The hospital she has been working at for over 20 years witnesses the birth of Davis Bauer, the son of Turk and Britanny Bauer – a White Supremacist couple. A post-it note saying loud and clear ‘No African American personnel to care for this baby’ is placed on the baby’s file at the parents’ request. For Ruth, comments like this feel like paper cuts. A routine procedure brings Ruth and Davis back in the same room. Time perception narrows. ‘In the middle of a crisis, time is viscous. (…) You hear voices climbing a ladder of panic, and it all becomes one deafening, discordant note‘. Days later, Ruth’s house is stormed into by police in the middle of the night and she is on trial for murder.
Kennedy McQuarrie is my favourite character. Coming from a (almost graduate) law student, this cannot be a surprise to you. She has a perfect husband, a perfect daughter and a not-so-perfect job as a defendant lawyer for people who have no representation. Her usual cases are the ones no one wants to talk about in this industry, but she is cut for it. She dances with her prosecution counterpart through trials where people have minutes to plead their cases and even less to consult with their counsel. A picture of a justice system were she wins stays of proceedings to allow her clients to find legal representation or someone to pay off their bail. Most of them never chose her at trial which would help her progress her career, so she remains stuck in the same cycle. Ruth Jefferson is her breakout, both in terms of her career and her overall perception of how she sees the justice game being played out in courtroom.
WHAT I LIKED
Picoult touches on the subject of race in the United States but goes beyond this to talk about family, faith, justice and hope in the eyes of three characters, all shaped surprisingly well. In the Author’s note, Picoult blatantly sets out her position as a white-privileged woman daring to write about race because she ‘desperately wanted to write about racism’. She acknowledges she took a big risk in writing about an experience she had not lived herself; however, what impressed me most is all the hard work she put into writing a book with a message for those ignoring a big red flag right in front of their eyes. She researched, carried out interviews and reflected on her own upbringing as a privileged woman. It’s quite impressive how she used writing this book to answer her own questions on why she is the way she is and, in doing so, it certainly made me more aware of how similar I am to her. To an extent, I agree with those readers saying that this book is the perfect discussion starter, because this plot is controversial, painfully real and thought-provoking.
Picoult is definitely most comfortable in the courtroom. I devoured those scenes of vetting the jury, dealing with discovery and testimony, but unsurprisingly, the closing arguments are the cherry on top of the cake. This book is not only about race, contrary to what most of other readers believe. I read about family, about being raised by a fighting mother and raising children like it’s the ultimate duty. I read about legal strategies, quick thinking in times of crisis and how to expect the unexpected. How to re-analyse and adjust in a trial. I read about people with strong ethics and principles being shattered to pieces and re-built over and over again, until they found love as a missing piece. As this is the first Picoult novel I read, I have to say that I am overall impressed by her brilliant mind.
WHAT I LIKED LESS
To be absolutely honest, the ending was rushed and underserving of the plot. I was probably so into the plot, that I kind of wished more to happen in the end. I wanted to know more. Leaving me with questions after reading a book this way is somewhat intriguing but it begs the question whether Picoult stopped once the race issue was fully dealt with – so perhaps once her point was achieved, there was simply nothing else to write about? I like to think there was more to the story and the ending could have been richer in details.
MY FAVOURITE QUOTE
We all do it, you know. Distract ourselves from noticing, how time’s passing. We throw ourselves into our jobs. We focus on keeping the blight off our tomato plants. We fill up our gas tanks and top off our Metro cards and do the grocery shopping so that the weeks look the same on the surface. And then one day, you turn around, and your baby is a man. One day, you look in the mirror, and see grey hair. One day, you realize there is less of your life left than what you’ve already lived. And you think ‘how did this happen so fast? It was only yesterday when I was having my first legal drink, when I was diapering him, when I was young’
When this realization hits, you start doing the math. How much time do I have left? How much can I fit into that small space?
Some of us let this realization guide us, I guess. We book trips to Tibet, we learn how to sculpt, we skydive. We try to pretend it’s not almost over.
But some of us just fill up our gas tanks and top off our Metro cards and do the grocery shopping, because if you only see the path that’s right ahead of you, you don’t obsess over when the cliff might drop off.
Some of us never learn.
And some of us learn earlier than others.
WOULD I RECOMMEND THE BOOK?
I would recommend this book to people who want to question their own ethics, their own views and habits. This is the kind of novel which makes you see things that cannot be unseen. I am definitely going to try Picoult’s novels at least once again because of her writing, the work and effort she puts into making sure she can relate to her characters and the risk she takes to approach controversial subjects. If this sounds like something you would like to read, you can purchase the book here.