Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Summer reading: My Sister's Keeper by Jodi Picoult

I had never read a novel by Jodi Picoult, but I kept seeing her books prominently displayed on bookstore shelves and seeing people (women) reading them on the commuter train. And then My Sister's Keeper (the movie) came out, with Cameron Diaz as the mother, Alec Baldwin as the lawyer, and Abigail Breslin as the daughter, and I decided I wanted to read the book before I saw the movie (assuming that I could ever drag dh to see what was so obviously yet another a chick flick, lol)(so far, I haven't seen it). So I brought it with me on my recent vacation.

It was an absorbing read. Definitely geared to a female audience, but not so frivolous that it could be labelled "chick lit."

My Sister's Keeper is the story of a family whose life revolves around the oldest daughter, Kate, who has been battling leukemia since she was a child. Kate has managed to reach the teenage years, with the help of her younger sister, Anna (now 13), who was conceived using IVF and pre-implantation genetic diagnosis, specifically so that she could be a bone marrow donor for Kate. Over the years, Anna has endured several painful procedures to benefit her sister. Now, Kate needs a kidney transplant -- and guess who is being tapped (yet again) as the donor? This time, however, Anna has other plans for her life.

I've heard news stories in the past, about babies who were conceived as donors for sick siblings. I knew it was an ethically contentious topic, but I never really stopped to consider all the different aspects of such a situation, and how it would play out through the years as the children grew up. How does the donor child feel about all this, and their role in the family? How do families of terminally ill children cope? How does one child's illness affect the family dynamics, & the other children in the family?

Speaking of other children in the family -- I think my favourite character in the book wound up being Jesse, Anna & Kate's juvenile delinquent of an older brother. The ending of the book is full of twists, and I had to laugh when I read about Jesse's fate. In retrospect, it seemed so obvious, but I honestly didn't see it coming. (By the way, I've heard the ending of movie is quite different from the book's. Caveat emptor.)

Many of the reader reviews I've seen express an intense dislike for the character of the mother, Sara, who tenaciously clings to the goal of keeping her older daughter alive, any way she can -- even at the expense of her younger daughter's happiness. But what would you or I do in the same situation? How can you not hope for a miracle? How do you know when to say "enough is enough"? What's the difference between admitting defeat and accepting the reality of an impossible situation? To what extent should parents be allowed to make decisions for their child, and to what extent should the child's wishes and opinions be taken into consideration?

Dare I say -- Sara reminded me of so many women I know, in real life and online, who tenaciously cling to their goal of becoming a mother... someday, somehow, some way. How do you decide when enough is enough? When do you stop hoping for a miracle? What is it that makes drive some people to try IVF four, six, nine times, and others (like me) to throw in the towel before even trying it once?

This would be a good future pick for the Barren B*tches Book Tour. As you can see, there's plenty of scope for discussion here!! And I will probably pick up another one of Picoult's novels in the future.


  1. This book was a very intriguing read for me. What a conundrum! I seriously disliked the ending though. I haven't seen the movie - so I don't know if I would have liked their ending better or not. I am trying to figure out how Cameron Diaz though is old enough to be a mom of 3 teenagers? Totally off topic - just hard to compete with the hollywood version of "middle-aged" women.

    I really liked Jesse also. :0)

  2. I read this book a couple years ago while taking my medical ethics class (and also amidst my IUI cycles). There is so much at stake, so much to discuss ... this book was a great read, the kind you could enjoy more than once.

    It's interesting that you point out Sara's relentless drive to protect her oldest daughter at all costs. I've often felt weaker, or perhaps less focused, or just less than other women who've pursued parenthood after IF at all costs. But while reading this book I remember thinking Sara was making mistakes because she was not able to stop, look around, and appreciate the whole (family) picture.

    I guess we all do the best we can, right? :-)

  3. I read it... hated the ending. It felt wayyyy too contrived to me. But she's a good writer!

  4. I just read this book on my most recent vacation, and I found it to be amazingly interesting, both because I'm a lawyer (non-practicing) and about to go through IVF. I'm hoping to see the movie, too, but also not sure if I can drag my husband there.