I hate novels where parenting is questioned, simply because I too often find myself thinking, “Well I would never do THAT.” I then have to do the whole knock-on-wood routine and hope that I didn’t just invite divine retribution for being too judgmental. So it was with Jodi Picoult’s novel My Sister’s Keeper. After reading the summary of the novel, I knew that I would never make the choices that the parents shown did. After reading the novel, I found myself questioning what I might really do if my child was facing death.
In case you missed the summary, My Sister’s Keeper is the story of Anna, a thirteen year old girl genetically conceived to be a match for her leukemia-positive sister. Within minutes of her birth, she was a donor for Kate, sharing her cord blood to save her sister’s life. By the time she is thirteen, when the novel takes place, she has been in the hospital almost as much as Kate, donating things such as blood and bone marrow. After being asked to donate a kidney, she seeks legal emancipation from her parents. And so the story begins.
One of the things that bugged me was the chapter-by-chapter switch of the point of view. It was very well handled and, once I got past the irritation stage, I had to let in that it helped the story along. And so we skip by the minds of Anna, her lawyer, her court-appointed guardian ad litem, her brother, her father, and her mother – in short, everyone close to Anna except her sister. Each of these perspectives is given in the present, with the notable exception of her mother. Instead, we trace the mother’s path of learning that her daughter has leukemia, and what decisions led her (and Anna) to the current moment. This, too, was initially bothersome, but proved well-chosen; I’m not sure the same impact would have been made if we simply had the mom looking back. It would have been far easier to estimate her at that point than it was to see her experiencing her pain.
In fact, it was from Sara’s perspective that I learned the most, and that I questioned myself. If my young daughter, the light of my life, was threatened with death, how far would I go to save her? I don’t think that I honestly would have already thought up the idea of imagining a child specifically for that purpose, but what do you do once the idea has been planted? Furthermore, it is clear that Sara loves and cherishes Anna, already as she worries incessantly over Katie. True, she neglects her, but she also neglects her son, who had been born prior to the diagnosis, turning most of her attention to her sick child. And though this also made me pass judgement, it also made me surprise – would I be able to balance my attention on all my children if one were struggling by a life-long illness? How easy would it be to make small decisions that hurt the others to save the one?
In short, I hated this well-written, well-developed, well-plotted book because it made me think. The moral and religious side of me rufuses the concept of a test-tube baby conceived for a specific purpose, but the mother in me wonders. If my child were starving, how easy would it be to keep true to my moral perspectives and not steal (assuming, of course, the government weren’t around to save me)? If someone threatened my child, how far would I go to protect them? In short, when it comes down to crunch time, how true would I stay?
To fall asleep, I have to assure myself that I would, of course, be perfect in all things. And then knock soundly on the nearest wood, and pray I never have to find out.