Posts Tagged ‘jodi picoult’

Source: Personal library
Rating: ★★★☆☆

At some time or another, everyone was failed by this world.  Disappointment was the one thing humans had in common.

Taken this way, Ross didn’t feel quite so alone.  Trapped in the whirlpool of what might have been, you might not be able to drag yourself out — but you could be saved by someone else who reached in.

(from Second Glance, page 374)

It’s been a long time since I read a Jodi Picoult novel, mostly because they started to feel the same to me, with a focus on court trials and exploring the gray areas of such hot topics as bullying and organ donation.  Second Glance was a breath of fresh air because the issue of eugenics is important to the story but doesn’t overshadow the ghosts, grief, and a 70-year-old murder mystery.

Second Glance focuses primarily on Ross Wakeman, a man who longs to reconnect with his dead fiancée through death, but when he finds that he can’t die, he becomes a ghost hunter instead.  Unable to connect with Aimee or move on with his life, he visits his sister, Shelby, who struggles to maintain a normal life for her young son, who is afflicted with a genetic disorder that prevents him from being out in the sun.  While in the small town of Comtosook, Vermont, Ross volunteers to investigate the strange happenings on a plot of land slated for development, which the Abenaki tribe claims is an old burial ground.  During the investigation, Ross meets Lia Beaumont, a young woman who makes him feel things he hasn’t felt since Aimee’s death.

Picoult weaves together Ross and Shelby’s stories with that of a 102-year-old Abenaki leader; a geneticist and her young daughter, who is frightened by the ghosts she sees everywhere; a nursing home resident on the cusp of death whose past comes back to haunt him; and a policeman intent on solving the 1932 murder of a young mother.  This young woman narrates the most interesting section of the book.  Set during 1932, it brings to life a little known piece of history about the Vermont eugenics movement, in which the state’s sterilization law was used to get rid of undesirable characteristics in certain families believed to be too much in need of the social welfare system (criminals and those plagued by mental illness, among others), with the goal of wiping out future generations so that these characteristics aren’t passed down.  Picoult contrasts this failed “experiment” (which apparently became the foundation of the Nazi eugenics program) with the work Meredith does as a geneticist in screening embryos for certain conditions so that parents can make more informed decisions about the children they bring into the world.

Second Glance is a book that requires a lot of patience from the reader.  Picoult introduces numerous characters in the first 30 or so pages, and it’s difficult to keep track of them at first.  But as the story progressed and the characters’ connections became clear, I found it easier to follow and harder to put the book down.  However, what kept me from loving the book was the fact that once I put two and two together, it started to feel slow in getting to the ending that I’d already seen coming.

Yet, there are so many things that make the novel worth reading, from the historical fiction elements about the Abenaki and the eugenics program to the wonderfully flawed characters and their struggle to overcome the various obstacles that have made them nearly give up on life and love.  Picoult even handles the ghost story in a tender way that makes it seem plausible.  Readers shouldn’t pick up Second Glance expecting it to be just like other Picoult novels, such as Nineteen Minutes, My Sister’s Keeper, or Change of Heart.  This one requires more from the reader due to the intricate and sometimes convoluted plot, but I think that’s what I liked best about it.  It’s worth the struggle at the beginning to see how everything falls into place by the end.

My one and only book for The Jodi Picoult Project

Disclosure: Second Glance is from my personal library.

© 2012 Anna Horner of Diary of an Eccentric. All Rights Reserved. Please do not reproduce or republish content without permission.

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I am so glad I kept Nineteen Minutes by Jodi Picoult past the library due date. It was so worth the 40 cent fine. (It would’ve been 60 cents, but they didn’t charge me for the July 4th holiday.)

What I love about Jodi Picoult (well, besides the gorgeous curly red hair) is that she’s not afraid to write about difficult subject matter–in the case of Nineteen Minutes, a school shooting in which nine students and one teacher are killed during that short period of time. What makes Picoult unique is that she takes what beliefs you thought were set in stone and turns them upside down. She makes you realize these issues are not black and white.

I’ll admit that when I watch the news on television, I provide my own commentary to anyone who’ll listen. (Annoying, I know, but it’s a surefire way to start a conversation with the quiet husband.) A boy gets killed in Baltimore City at 2 am, and I ask why the hell was he out that late in the first place. A toddler gets kidnapped, and I ask why the parents thought it was okay to leave him by himself. A couple of teenagers open fire in a high school and massacre dozens before killing themselves, and I think the psychos certainly deserved to die. I mean, they were monsters without one shred of kindness in their souls, right? I’d never doubted such beliefs until reading Nineteen Minutes.

In the first chapter, Peter Houghton, a 17-year-old student at Sterling High in Sterling, N.H., walks into school carrying two handguns and two sawed-off shotguns after setting off a car bomb in the school parking lot. After being taken into custody, Peter tells the detective, “They started it.” Picoult then transports you from the present into the past and back and forth again. The story is told from the points of view of several characters: Peter; Josie, the girlfriend of one of the jocks killed during the shooting spree and Peter’s oldest friend, who stopped hanging out with him when she became popular; Alex, Josie’s mom and the judge assigned to the case; Patrick, the detective who took Peter into custody; Lacy, Peter’s mom and Alex’s former best friend; Lewis, Peter’s father; and Jordan, Peter’s attorney.

Picoult helps you to understand how the torture Peter endured nearly everyday from kindergarten on could push him to such extremes. Having endured my own fair share of bullying in middle school and high school, I felt bad for Peter and agreed that his tormentors needed to be stopped. But killed? No. Most of us have an internal “stop” button that prevents us from going that far. But I appreciate Picoult taking me on a journey through the shades of gray.

I also was drawn to the character of Lacy because, as a mother, I understand what it means to have hopes and dreams and unconditional love for a human being you helped to create. The media focuses on the families of those killed, and rightly so, but Picoult helped me to see that the mothers and fathers of the killers are victims, too, having lost children who are no longer the same people they tucked into bed every night. Picoult is telling us that we can’t make snap judgments. Our lives, our worries, our souls, our thoughts, our actions are much too complex. We need to delve deeper, look at a situation from all angles, understand that things aren’t always what we see on the surface.

I’ve never before finished a book feeling a teeny bit sorry for the bad guy. Picoult did not give Peter’s tormentors many redeeming qualities, but she succeeded in making Peter appear human, not quite the monster he is at first glance. I remember the Peter in my high school, the kid who always had a target on his back, though he didn’t do much to deserve it. And I remember the obnoxious jocks and their snobby girlfriends who thought they were above it all and were downright cruel to this kid–simply because it gave them a sense of power and made them feel good because they weren’t the ones being tortured. I’ve also never finished a book with such conflicted feelings. On one hand, I can see–but not condone–Peter’s reasoning; on the other hand, I feel so wrong for feeling that way.

Nineteen Minutes is not so much about the events leading up to a school shooting and its aftermath as it is about the fragility of our minds and emotions, the desire to belong, the confusion of figuring out who we are, the thickness of our skin, the impulsiveness of adolescence, our breaking points.

I remember vividly the horrors of not fitting in, how what everyone else thinks of you is more important than just being who you really are. It makes you wonder, out of the many kids teased by the same bullies in the same school, what causes one to snap and lash out? What makes the others decide to shrink as small as possible and wait it out, knowing that after graduation they can move into a new life where they are not branded “geek” or “freak,” no one knows who they are, and they can build themselves from scratch? It’s been more than a decade since I graduated from high school. (Gosh, I’m old!) All the things that seemed important then are, to be frank, stupid and childish now. Enough said–except that I am secretly looking forward to the reunion when I can once and for all prove that I wasn’t too fat or ugly to get married and have kids and get a chance to laugh at those who were thin, beautiful, and popular then but are sagging, bald, flabby, and single now.

Disclosure:  I borrowed Nineteen Minutes from my local library. I am an Amazon associate.

© 2007 Anna Horner of Diary of an Eccentric. All Rights Reserved. Please do not reproduce or republish content without permission.

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