Tuesday, January 4, 2011

My Sister’s Keeper Is Not A Chick-Flick

My Sister’s Keeper is not a chick-flick.

This novel, written by Jodi Picoult, is a touching tale of the bravery and the sorrow of a small Rhode Island family. Thirteen-year-old daughter Anna Fitzgerald was genetically modified before her conception to be a living gold mine of cells, blood, and marrow for her 16-year-older sister Kate, who is dying from an aggressive form of leukemia. Tired of her parents focusing their attention only on Kate, Anna seeks legal medical emancipation from her parents Brian (fire chief at the station and amateur star-gazer) and Sara (ex-lawyer and full-time caretaker for Kate) with the professional help of impersonal but experienced lawyer Alexander Campbell and of court-appointed guardian-ad-litem Julia Romano, as well as with the occasional odd job from her older, seemingly-typical rebellious teenage brother, Jesse. The novel’s dramatic conclusion captivates, stuns, and finally overwhelms the reader as the narrators end the tense tale of an aspiring girl and her troubled family.

The novel is narrated through the eyes of all of the previously mentioned characters (save Kate, who narrates only one chapter, and that in the epilogue), allowing the reader to get all the sides to the delicate legal issue at hand. Anna’s narration opens the novel—it is these narrations which I thought to be most appealing on account of their meatiness and their raw passion. Anna’s narrations drive the plot forward and foster the reader’s interest in the conflicts within the novel. Her spunk and her determination make the reader like Anna and sympathize to her cause. On the other hand, mother Sara’s narrations are drawn out, doused with stereotypical emotions, and bitter to digest. Sara’s narration constantly wavers between the past—Kate’s early years of prognosis—and the current legal case before her. While her switcheroo is undoubtedly necessary to both the plot and the emotional appeal of her novel --After all, Kate has to be a real person to the reader, lest we not care about her death-- I myself find the tedious and emotional narration to be overwhelmingly bland and overcooked. I recall thinking at numerous points throughout Sara’s narration, “Okay, I get it. Your daughter is dying of cancer. Let’s move on” and flipping to the next chapter. (Thankfully, the next narration was Anna’s.)

The other narrations were deliciously crafted. Jesse, though he narrates few chapters, has a darkly humorous side to him—and a surprisingly passionate and existential one, too. Brian’s narrations are plain but personable; a true mix between the narrations of his wife and of his daughter; a true testimony to the character of a tired, drained, and confused father. Campbell’s narrations are bitingly sarcastic and Julia’s are scathingly critical. Both are extremely witty characters and I looked forward to reading their narrations (though Julia’s narrations were a bit confusing). In short, the personal narratives of every major character were enlightening to both the plot and the nature of the novel itself.

The real potency of this novel, however, lies in neither its plot nor its characters. In truth, I find that Keeper should have been published as an ethics or philosophy textbook. Questions of morality and the idea of what is right or wrong are strongly embedded within the essence of the novel itself. When I read this novel, I could not help but question the actions of the characters and judge them for myself. The first and blazingly obvious ethical dilemma presented in the novel is the birth of Anna: Anna was born just to keep her sister Kate alive. Does this dehumanize Anna—does her birth make her a thing and not a person? What about Anna’s parents—Are they justified in using the technology of create-a-baby to design the “perfect” baby for Kate? Keeper uses the multifaceted narrations to present all the sides to—but not answer—those questions. I had to really study Anna’s aspirations and her family’s (especially Kate’s and her mother’s) treatment of Anna before I finally concluded that Anna is simply a thing, and that, in all real senses of the term, Anna was never quite human. But it is in this process that Keeper is really etherealized; Keeper forced me to probe deeper within the thoughts and actions of each character.

Overall, My Sister’s Keeper is an enchanting tale. While the beginning was a little slow, after the characters and driving conflict were introduced, the storyline of the novel leaves the reader intrigued and captivated to the end. While this novel was not a true “put-me-down”, I did find myself wishing that I had more time to read it and digest its ethical conflicts and appreciate the depth of its characters and plot. Contrary to popular belief, My Sister’s Keeper is not a chick-flick; it is a real, raw, and touching tale of a tragic family and their aspiring daughter’s struggle to fight for her rights.

Score: 7.9/10

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