Friday, 21 December 2018

Book Review: A Spark of Light by Jodi Picoult

The warm fall day starts like any other at the Center—a women’s reproductive health services clinic—its staff offering care to anyone who passes through its doors. Then, in late morning, a desperate and distraught gunman bursts in and opens fire, taking all inside hostage.

After rushing to the scene, Hugh McElroy, a police hostage negotiator, sets up a perimeter and begins making a plan to communicate with the gunman. As his phone vibrates with incoming text messages he glances at it and, to his horror, finds out that his fifteen-year-old daughter, Wren, is inside the clinic.

But Wren is not alone. She will share the next and tensest few hours of her young life with a cast of unforgettable characters: A nurse who calms her own panic in order save the life of a wounded woman. A doctor who does his work not in spite of his faith but because of it, and who will find that faith tested as never before. A pro-life protester disguised as a patient, who now stands in the cross hairs of the same rage she herself has felt. A young woman who has come to terminate her pregnancy. And the disturbed individual himself, vowing to be heard.

Told in a daring and enthralling narrative structure that counts backward through the hours of the standoff, this is a story that traces its way back to what brought each of these very different individuals to the same place on this fateful day.

Jodi Picoult—one of the most fearless writers of our time—tackles a complicated issue in this gripping and nuanced novel. How do we balance the rights of pregnant women with the rights of the unborn they carry? What does it mean to be a good parent? A Spark of Light will inspire debate, conversation . . . and, hopefully, understanding.

I adore Jodi Picoult for having the courage to write about important issues that are so rarely talked about, let alone written about. And I'm a huge fan of Jodi Picoult, not just for that reason, but for being a fabulous author, with a unique writing style, and a talent for storytelling. I've read all of Jodi's books released to date. I've been to see Jodi talk in person twice. I own two signed copies of her books. I raved about her last novel, Small Great Things, which tackled racism. And so I was undeniable excited to read her latest release, A Spark of Light, which tackles the issue of abortion.

And yet, despite all of that, I really really did not like this book. Which is heart-breaking to me, as I've never disliked even one of Jodi's books. Till now. And there are three key reasons why A Spark of Light just didn't work for me. Let's discuss.

1. Too many characters. When I went to see Jodi talk about this book in Stratford-Upon-Avon, she told of how she'd started off with 16 characters but whittled it down to 10 at her editor's advice. I hate to say it, Jodi, but even 10 was too many. I could not keep up with all of the characters, their motives for being at the abortion clinic that day, and their relationships to the outside world. Small Great Things, Jodi's last novel, focused on 3 central characters. And that was so much easier to follow. 
2. Told in reverse. Jodi decided to start with the finale, and tell the story in reverse. Which was a unique idea and I was quite keen to see how this played out. The answer? Badly. As if things weren't hard enough to follow with the 10 characters. I now had to keep reminding myself at the close of every chapter what happened previously, and when it happened in the timeline. It made my head hurt. 
3. The storyline was not to my taste. I am firmly pro-choice. But as a woman who has been trying for a baby for four years this month, I found it very uncomfortable to read about people who got pregnant on a one night stand, or without meaning to, and had an abortion. Not judging, just not something I want to read about given my current situation and struggles. 

And so it is with regret that I give this book one of the lowest ratings I've ever given one of Jodi Picoult's books. Also, can I just mention, that I didn't like the title or the cover art. And the physical book did not stand up well to general wear and tear. Which is disappointing. Especially when hardcovers cost so much! You expect them to last longer than one read. Whereas this one looked like it had been read at least three times, and then dropped in the bath and dried out on the radiator for good measure. Which was certainly not the case. Anyway, I digress. I'm so disappointed I didn't enjoy this book. But I think there is always going to be a handful of books put out by even your favourite author that you don't like. It's all down to taste. 

Rating: ***

Have you read anything by Jodi Picoult before? 

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