‘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.
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 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 has the right attitude. 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 to progress her career, which of course, it’s very relatable because she is stuck to a cycle of doing the dirty job. Ruth Jefferson is her breakout, in terms of her career and her overall perception of how she perceives justice 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, 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 this book to answer her own questions on why she is the way she is and perhaps, in doing so, it made me be more aware of facts I was probably aware of, but never had to deal with before. 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. With this being the first Picoult novel I read, I have to say that I am overall impressed by her brilliant mind.
WHAT I LIKED LESS
The ending was rushed. I was probably so caught up by the plot, that I kind of wished more to happen. 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. 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 gray 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 like to question their own principles, their own views and habits. This is the kind of novel which makes you see things you cannot unsee. I am definitely going to try Picoult’s novels once again because of her writing, the work she undertakes to make 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.