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Jodi Picoult is my all-time favourite writer. I’ve read all of her adult novels, with the exception of Mercy, which I’ve only recently been able to find a copy of in the UK (it’s already in my basket for my next Amazon order), and she never fails to surprise me. With hard hitting topics including abortion, euthanasia, organ donation, high school shootings, suicide, religion, sexual assault and more, I don’t think there’s anything she hasn’t covered and I’m looking forward to seeing what she comes up with next.
I’m in several bookish Facebook groups and I love seeing a reader come across one of her books for the first time and ask for recommendations of what to read next. I’d recommend all of them but I do have my favourites, so I thought I’d highlight my top ten (I’ve read 22) in a blog post. I’ve decided to list them in order of publication as it’s so hard for me to pick an overall favourite (although I’ve picked a top three at the end of this post).
The Pact was my second Jodi Picoult book (more on the first in a moment). I’d seen the TV movie beforehand, as it stars Megan Mullally and I’m a big Will & Grace fan.
The story centres on two families who live next door to each other. Their children have grown up together and became a couple during high school. One night they receive a call – Emily has died from a gunshot wound to the head and her boyfriend was found with a gun containing a single bullet, seemingly intended for him as part of a suicide pact. But the detective on the case has his suspicions. It’s a hard-hitting look at how well we really know our children.
My Sister’s Keeper was my first Jodi Picoult book and is the only one I’ve re-read so far – ahead of the (disappointing) film release. If I remember rightly, I first read it during my A Levels. I was browsing in WH Smith one day and picked up a ‘buy one get one half price’ offer. The blurb had me hooked and from then on I was a Jodi Picoult fan.
What would you do to save your child? For the Fitzgeralds, whose daughter Kate is battling leukemia, the only viable option is to have another child who can donate their blood and bone marrow. When Anna reaches the age of 13, she’s asked to donate a kidney to save her sister again, and decides to sue her parents for medical emancipation, making her body her own, which effectively means Kate will die.
This book is part coming of age and part courtroom drama. It had me completely hooked on my first read and was one of the first ‘adult’ books I read which completely swept me away and gut-punched me come the end. If you’ve seen the film, please give the book a chance. The ending is completely different and one of the most memorable I’ve ever read.
It’s a great first book if you’re new to Jodi’s work, with her typical courtroom, multiple POV style, twists and turns, and surprise ending.
Published in 2007, five years after her first novel, Nineteen Minutes was Jodi’s first book to debut at number one on the New York Times bestseller list. While the story focuses on a high school shooting, it explores several themes, such as bullying, peer pressure, abuse, and PTSD. It’s a fantastic example of Jodi’s ability to handle multiple POVs, encouraging the reader to consider different values to their own and even empathising with the ‘villain’.
Another parental dilemma – your child has heart failure and needs a transplant. The man awaiting the death penalty for the murder of your husband and other daughter is a match and wants to donate. What do you do? A chilling exploration of the justice system, in-mate rights, religion, and what it means to have a heart.
Another family courtroom drama, this time centred on a wrongful birth lawsuit. Sean and Charlotte’s youngest daughter, Willow, has brittle bone syndrome, resulting in many hospital bills, despite their constant caution. When Willow breaks both of her femurs on a family trip to Disneyland, her parents prepare to launch a lawsuit after the park and hospital blame the breaks on child abuse. Their lawyer suggests a wrongful birth lawsuit instead, which means going up against their OB/GYN, and Charlotte’s best friend, claiming that had they known about their daughter’s condition earlier, they would have terminated the pregnancy.
Of course, this isn’t about the parents wishing they never had their daughter, it’s about doing what it takes to secure the finances to care for her. The themes, tone and ending are somewhat reflective of My Sister’s Keeper without being repetitive.
Eighteen-year-old Jacob has Asperger’s Syndrome and is accused of murdering his tutor. The story details the struggle between the law and his disability.
What happens when a couple who are struggling to start a family freeze embryos and then separate? What about when the woman wishes to use those embryos with her new wife? Throw in a born-again Christian, who is told by his pastor that it’s not right to have his child raised by two women, and you’ve got a(nother courtroom) battle on your hands.
The Storyteller is one of my favourites. I’m not typically a fan of historical fiction but this was one of those books which I had to pass on as soon as I finished reading it. Part Holocaust flashback, part modern day redemption, The Storyteller focuses on lonely twenty-something Sage. She meets an elderly man at a grief group who confesses to her that he was a Nazi commander at Auschwitz and asks her to help him die. The story then jumps back in time as Sage pieces together the man’s history to prove his identity before deciding whether or not to adhere to his request, ultimately discovering that he crossed paths with her own grandmother as a child. Emotional and gripping stuff.
The title comes from the words of Martin Luther King: “If I cannot do great things, I can do small things in a great way” and deals with the issue of race in America. Delivery nurse Ruth Jefferson is ordered not to touch the baby of a white supremacist couple. When that baby dies in her care, Ruth is charged with murder and taken to court.
Small Great Things is certainly not an easy read, with chapters written from the point of view of a truly despicable character. It’s hard going but such an important book.
Just when you thought Jodi couldn’t get more topical, she releases a book about abortion rights in America. And my gosh, is she on top form.
A lone protestor arrives at a women’s reproductive health centre with a gun, holding staff and patients hostage. Jodi’s latest novel is unlike its predecessors, in that it opens with the most tense moment of the hostage negotiations and goes back in time, hour by hour, revealing how everyone came to be at the centre on that day.
It’s testament to Jodi’s writing that, while you want to know what happens next in the negotiations, and you have to wait the entire length of the book to find out, you’re already so emotionally invested in these character’s stories that you want to know more about them. I finished the book wanting even more.
While I said I couldn’t rank these ten titles, or pick an overall favourite, I am particularly fond of The Pact, My Sister’s Keeper and The Storyteller. New to Jodi’s work and want to know where to start? My Sister’s Keeper is a cracker and is guaranteed to convert you. Happy reading!
Have you read any of Jodi’s books already? Which is your favourite?