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4.2 out of 5 stars
My Sister's Keeper: A Novel (Wsp Readers Club)
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249 of 275 people found the following review helpful
on April 30, 2004
Jodi Picoult has masterfully covered yet another controversial topic in her novel "My Sister's Keeper." This time, young Kate is diagnosed with a severe form of leukemia. Her parents then have a baby, Anna, who is genetically selected to be a close donor match for Kate. From her birth onward into her early teens, Anna is called upon to undergo increasingly invasive and dangerous procedures to provide blood, bone marrow, and other tissues to sustain her older sister's life. Now, a kidney is needed, and Anna brings a lawsuit against her parents, claiming the right to her make own decision about what medical procedures can be performed on her. Anna's mother Sara, an attorney, decides to represent her own daughter Kate at the trial.
There are some very difficult questions raised in this story. Does Anna have the obligation to risk her own health to save her sister? Do her parents have the right to make the medical decisions about Anna's donor role, and where should their loyalties lie? Where is the fine line between what is legal and what is ethical in a situation like this? There seem to be no right or wrong answers here, and the ensuing trial recounts all the physical, moral, psychological, and familial struggles that are brought to bear on the issue. Picoult paints a powerfully emotional picture of a family in turmoil. She adds additional tension to the story through brother Jesse, whose drug taking and criminal tendencies add even more burdens to an already overwrought situation. The story also includes the love/hate relationship between Anna's lawyer and her legal guardian.
The narrative switches from character to character so that the reader hears the voices of each family member, as well as that of Anna's lawyer and of the legal guardian appointed to watch out for her interests. Sara's narrative includes flashbacks on the history of Kate's illness, Anna's role in providing medical support, and the toll that the constant threat of Kate's death takes on the family. There are several shocking twists to the plot that make the story even more riveting. This is Picoult's best book yet!
Eileen Rieback
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142 of 157 people found the following review helpful
on July 31, 2007
Dear God, how I hated the characters in this book.

I read My Sister's Keeper after reading a blurb about it. The topic fascinated me: what would a child conceived to "save" a sibling think as they grew older? Especially if the "saving" part went on and on and on.

The books starts with that child, Anna, going to a lawyer to get out of her role as genetic donor on call. So far, so good. It's a soapy, Lifetime movie idea but I've nothing against a soapy story. Middlemarch and War and Peace have their soapy elements too. The problem isn't the soapiness, it's that Picoult keeps adding the soap, piling on sub-plots and adding quirks to her characters until, frankly, I wanted to kill them myself. You'll rarely find a less likable group of characters than the adults on display in this book.

Campbell Alexander, the lawyer Anna hires, is standard issue "selfish, self-absorbed, morally questionable attorney who only wants to win." His quirk is that he has a service dog but HE ISN'T BLIND. Gee, I wonder what the reason could be. Seriously, is there anyone with half a brain who can't think of the one other reason an adult would have a service dog? There must be loads because Picoult treats this as a big mystery even though every chapter from Campbell's point of view has him telling someone that "Judge" (get it, a lawyer with a dog named "Judge"? Wow.) is a service dog. I wish that Judge's service job would have been to bite Campbell on the leg everytime Campbell said the words "service dog" or at least to chomp on him whenever he was a jerk but, alas, Judge just trots around witnessing this silliness.

Then there's Julia Romano, Anna's court appointed guardian and Campbell's old flame. What are the chances that these two would see each other again after he dumped her? Well, they do live in Rhode Island and both practice law in Providence so I guess the question really is how is it possible they haven't run into each other in the last 20 years? Julia is quirky too, she's a free spirit. I know this because Julia gives all her appliances names. Her refrigerator is called "Smilla." Yes, Julia is considered by a court to be responsible enough to look after the interests of a child despite the fact that she names inanimate objects and converses with them.

But once you've got a load of Anna's mother, Sara, you'll probably think even Smilla would be a better guardian. Sara is the least likable person in the book. Selfish, delusional, self-absorbed and self-enchanted, Sara ignores her son Jesse to the point that he becomes a pyromaniac, sees her daughter Anna as a walking donor and relentlessly insists on "saving" her daughter Kate without asking the teenager what she wants. Oh, and she orders designer gowns from BlueFly and returns them on a regular basis. Sara was a lawyer and when the courtroom scenes start, Sara decides to represent herself. And why not? It's smart, it's cheap, it's the sort of thing courts love and it just makes sense. Why should anyone else have the spotlight? I think Picoult meant Sara to be likable and slightly clueless about the impact of her actions. I wanted to throttle Sara.

Everyone in this book ruminates. About life. About death. About the stars. About their appliances. Instead of being thoughtful or deep it just grinds the story to a halt. It also made me wish these people would stop navel gazing and do something. Say what you will about Jesse and his little match-focused hobby, at least he gets out of the house once in a while.

It all comes down to a courtroom confrontation, just like in Perry Mason. Will Anna win her freedom? Will Sara make her see that she may feel guilty for letting Kate die? Will Kate ever stand up for herself? Will Campbell tell Julia the real reason he dumped her? Will someone, anyone, tell Sara to shut up?

Then there's the "twist" ending. I know some readers hated it so much it ruined the book for them. I was too far gone by then to think anything but "so this is what irony overload looks like." And that the RI DMV must have some interesting rules if Campbell can get a driver's license.

Picoult is capable of, and has written, much better. (See The Pact, for an example of Picoult on form.) She'd have done beter to have cut the story in half, dropped all the sub-plots and stuck to the main story. And had several characters slap Sara. Repeatedly.
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331 of 382 people found the following review helpful
Jodi Picoult, My Sister's Keeper (Washington Square Press, 2004)

Did you ever start off reading a book with a relatively high opinion of it, and then have that opinion spiral downward every few pages until it just bottomed out at the end? That's how I felt while reading My Sister's Keeper.

Picoult has a great hook-- a child, conceived for the purpose of keeping her leukemic older sister alive, sues her parents for medical emancipation-- and she starts out defining her characters well, giving us a stable of interesting people about whom to read. It all, however, goes downhill from there. Picoult has that rare and undesirable combination of a taste for melodrama and a fine ear for cliché, and it's so well-mixed that even the quotes she chooses at the beginnings of sections are fraught with both. (When you see Milton's long-trampled quote about darkness visible in a book, what's going to happen? Yes, you know.) At over four hundred pages, the writing style just wears you down. Then characters start to slip from three-dimensional model into two-dimensional archetype, and either Picoult's own prejudices, or her attempts to manipulate the reader, start to show through. The rise of this trait and the rise of the melodrama, not surprisingly, go hand in hand. As the characters get less and less three-dimensional, they get more grating. This is especially true in the case of Sara, the mother involved; by page three hundred, I was marveling that no other character in the novel had simply killed her in her sleep to put her out of everyone else's misery.

And then comes the ending. Holy cow, the awful, horrible, cheesy, syrupy, lowest-common-denominator, you could see it coming from so far away because it was as big as Jupiter's great red spot, Lifetime Original Movie(TM) ending. It was like a punch in the stomach to have come this far with these characters and then have the author take the path of least resistance. If you read this book, when you get to page 350 or thereabouts, stop, take a bunch of index cards, and write down all the possible ways you think this book might end. Rank them in terms of desirability. I guarantee that the end of this book will be the one you put at the absolute bottom of the stack. It's THAT bad.

I probably should have waited a few days to write this review in order to mellow over the awfulness of the ending, but the simple truth is, the book doesn't deserve any mellowing out. The author pulled a cheap shot. There's no reason the reviewer shouldn't as well. It starts out a relatively decent book. By its end, it is unbearably awful. (half)
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73 of 81 people found the following review helpful
I am a living kidney donor, and hoped this book would raise awareness. However, it so misepresents the medicine and ethics of living organ donation that I was completely disgusted.

First of all, no one can be forced to donate organs. The ethics are very clear that the DONOR'S interests are primary, not the recipient's, regardless of a family's wishes. The transplant team grilled me very thoroughly about my motives and desire to donate, and repeatedly offered me opportunities to withdraw, right up to the last minute. If I had backed out, the recipient would simply have been told that the staff had eliminated me as a donor candidate based on medical concerns. No one would know that I simply did not want to donate, and no one would try to convince me to donate. My surgeon made it clear that he represented my interests, not the recipient's. This is all standard procedure -- the accepted ethical practices of living organ donation.

It isn't easy for an adult to volunteer to donate and make it through screening, and it is almost impossible for a minor. I participated in a living donor website for years, and many who posted were minors who wanted to donate to a parent or sibling, and were refused flat out -- not even evaluated. A more honest novel might have a minor going to court to get permission to donate!

Further, you don't need an exact genetic match for a kidney or solid organ, the way you do for bone marrow. The anti-rejection drugs are so good that parents, other relatives, friends or a total stranger could perfectly well donate a kidney -- no need to force a child to do it. I was a zero match for my recipient and the kidney has been going strong for years now with no problems. If you're a good enough match to donate blood to someone, chances are you're a good enough match to give an organ.

I was hoping the book would get people thinking about the possibility of giving life to another through living donation, but I was horrified at how it was misrepresented. No medical process is perfect, but this book is totally off the mark. Worse, it's sounds plausible to many people. I've talked to friends -- including a physician -- who accepted the book's premise as factual and now believe a bunch of total hooey about how transplants work. There is already too much misinformation out there, that puts people off the idea of donating.

Donation was one of the hardest and most rewarding experiences of my life. It changed me -- not so much physically as emotionally -- in unexpected ways. But it is a journey of partnership and consent between donor and recipient. The goal, as my surgeon told me, is always to help a sick person get well without making a healthy person sick.
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167 of 192 people found the following review helpful
on June 5, 2009

With the movie about to come out, I thought I should review this book to warn people about it. DON'T BOTHER!

I actually really enjoyed the book (even with the rather clunky writing and unsubtle characterizations), and then the ending comes and I start screaming "What? You've gotta be kidding me!" It betrayed the entire premise of the book. It betrayed the characters. It certainly betrayed the reader. I will never read another book by this purveyor of pulp, and I refuse to go see the movie unless I am assured beforehand that they have re-written the ending so it makes sense with the rest of the story.

Specifically, and these are spoilers: what I got from the book was that the mother was so determined to save her older daughter, Kate, that she had totally lost her moorings. Kate was suffering unbearably, and so were her other children and her husband. So Anna, the younger daughter, takes a stand on Kate's behalf, and says stop, Kate should decide when enough is enough and this is it. Kate has decided she has fought through ten years of misery just to take another breath, but that's not enough. She wants a quality of life that she just can't have. So she is going to step back, let her sister and her family live their lives, and accept her own lot in life. I thought that was a very moving and interesting perspective.

Then, the end of this stupid book happens. Anna and Kate win their court case. They get to make their own medical decisions. Except they don't. "Fate" intervenes. Anna is killed in a stupid, cheap car crash. And suddenly her kidney, which was the point of the whole book, is basically up for grabs. So Kate just takes it. Even though the whole point of her character throughout the book was that she was done with medical procedures, suddenly the fact that her sister is a dead donor, instead of a perfectly willing live donor, makes her change her whole philosophy. And she takes the kidney. And she lives. So, it turns out that the mother was right all along. The girls were just "acting out," I guess. If they had just accepted one more medical procedure, everything would have been rosy. The whole premise of the book as I understood it -- that sometimes adolescents can see things adults can't, and can earn the right to determine their own destiny -- was just total b.s. Mommy always knows best. Oh, I cannot begin to express how I hated this conclusion. It made me feel like the entire book was an ugly practical joke.
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59 of 66 people found the following review helpful
on October 8, 2005
Those of us rating this book 1 star (or less) are in the vast minority. Take some time and view the reviews by lowest rating first. The title of my review says it all for me. In an "interview" in my version, the author says she ended the book the way she did because "this isn't an easy book ... and there are no easy answers." In my opinion, she chose the easiest answer of all. After dangling different scenarios that a final choice might bring, she lets every single character off the hook in the end. No one has to make a choice at all - "fate" does. Bull! In real life, a real choice would have to be made. The whole book is about making a very tough decision. Then poof! Golly gee, here's the big whammo twist ending, make sure you cry now! But no one has to decide. That's the cop out.

I agree with other extremely well-written reviews that the popping from character to character is too much and confusing. The author has a point-of-view problem. Worse, the emotions come from a dictionary with as much depth. Did we cover it all? A is for anger, B is for bitterness, C is for confusion. . . I knew I was being manipulated.

I began to skim, a bad sign, tired of the tediousness of it all and supremely irritated at those points I was supposed to stop and gasp about what a great analogy/metaphor/poignant point the author was making. Don't make me aware you're writing - sweep me along.

I had to read this because I am part of a book group. Otherwise, I'd have thrown it in the trash early, and I never do that to books.
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45 of 51 people found the following review helpful
on April 8, 2004
I have been a fan of Picoult's for many years. I was very hesitant to pick up this book because eight months ago, at 24 I was diagnosed with cancer. Then, the talk of stem cell transplants and blood transfusions was commonplace. My brothers would sit at the end of my bed, asking me what I needed from them and that they would go through the bone marrow tests to see who was a match. I told them, only if you want to. I was in so much pain and the thought of inflicting that on anyone else was keeping me up at night. To this end, Picoult does an absolutely phenomenal (sic) job at telling the story of a young woman with a fatal disease. She doesn't focus on Kate, the daughter with APL. She instead weaves her story around those close to her--her father, her sister, her mother, her brother, her sister's lawyer and the GAL. Sometimes we focus so hard on the person with the disease that those around us fall into the background. And they shouldn't because their pain, their choices, their stories are just as intriguing and poignant. Picoult really did her research and contrary to what another reviewer says here, really brings out the complexity of emotions that surround such grave circumstances. There is no wrong or right sometimes; we just go by feeling our way. Picoult always explores the gray areas, and she really does that quite well in this book. Some of the plot is contrived, some of the characters are never fully fleshed out, but it is still a great read that asks a lot of questions and doesn't offer any true answers. But be prepared to cry. It's a tearjerker on many levels and also very HONEST when describing what cancer, or any disease for that matter, does to the fabric of a family.
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52 of 60 people found the following review helpful
on November 26, 2005
Serious subject + daytime soap opera techniques = this book. I was disappointed that the author felt it necessary to jack up the pathos to the point where I could not care about any of the characters. OF COURSE the mom used to be a lawyer and takes on her daughters case, AGAINST her daughter. OF COURSE the ad litem guardian appointed is the long lost love of the lawyer. OF COURSE mom and dad met when he literally saved her life in a flooded parking lot. OF COURSE misunderstood son lights fires to get attention from his fire fighting father. I sat at my own sister's deathbed this summer, so perhaps I'm hypersensitive. But if you want a truly thought provoking or sensitive treatment of death and loss, don't read this book.

As for the big plot twist at the end, I summarized the plot of the first 2/3 of the book to my husband in the car before skimming the rest, and he called the ending. So much for tragic surprises.

I'm sure the author has her medical facts right- the reader is overwhelmed with them - but true emotion is missing. I found the story trite and downright manipulative.
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29 of 32 people found the following review helpful
on July 29, 2007
Many reviewers here who gave this book one or two stars did so because of the awful ending. I'm here to tell you that the book is bad from cover to cover. As for the ending, it didn't even irritate me. It was just more of the same pointless, shallow stuff.

Another reviewer wrote, "There are so many coincidences in this book it makes Jane Eyre look realistic." That would have been okay if, like Jane Eyre, the book had any emotional or moral relevance whatsoever. It doesn't. An algebra book has more emotional content, and Aesop's fables offer more truth.

The changing fonts, the self-conscious prose, the totally unrealistic 13-year-old, the lack of voice (I kept having to check to see which character was narrating anyhow)...all of these were annoying. I kept reading, though, because of the interesting premise: A girl sues her parents because she doesn't want to donate organs to her sister. But then I learned, because two doctors in the book insisted, that no doctor would ever take an organ from an unwilling donor! So why on earth does Anna need a lawsuit? The whole plot -- poof! -- just collapses right there. That's what really ended the book for me.

Jodi Picoult needs to get a real editor. A good editor wouldn't have let her even write this book until she was ready to do it right.
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37 of 42 people found the following review helpful
on March 4, 2005
I picked up this book because of all the buzz surrounding it, and the premise actually sounded compelling. This was the first Piccoult book I had read so I had nothing to compare it to.

Here are the main flaws:

1) The characters are completely cliched, everyone from the rebellious son, to the cold-hearted lawyer's bimbo secretary. Then if that's not bad enough, several of the characters have complete personality turns mid-stream to tie everything up neatly at the end.

2) The writing itself leaves a lot to be desired. There was little originality. Everything felt pre-written or rehashed. Worse was her constant need to hit the reader over the head with her "main moral point" of a particular chapter. Banal stuff like: "Sometimes life is hard." Okay, so maybe not that bad, but she certainly doesn't give her readers any credit for their abilities to infer themes/symbols etc. She just whacks you over the head with it.

3) The Ending. Obviously I won't give it away, but I agree with the other readers that she completely builds the story up to a point and then doesn't have the nerve to bring it to a hard decision.

I just don't like books like this. The book feels pale and lifeless and devoid of life, or spark, or something that makes a book really compelling.

It does, however, raise an interesting moral question. But I believe it's raised on the back cover. So my suggestion to you is: Read the back of the book and call it a day.
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