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Have you read: Family caught up in medical ethics

Emily Craven

“My Sister’s Keeper” by Jodi Picoult

Jodi Picoult’s “My Sister’s Keeper” is a daring, contemporary and insightful novel. Picoult takes on the much-debated controversial question, “To what medical lengths should we go to save a life?” However, she pulls this dilemma from the abstract realm of ethical debate and places it into one of the most basic units of human experience – the family. The fundamental premise of the novel, a family deciding to have a child that may be a tissue donor match for an older sibling, is taken from a true event. Through this set-up Picoult creates a narrative that explores this debate at its most human level. Essentially, Picoult attempts to answer the question “What happens when a family is presented with this dilemma?” What happens to the definition of life, the characteristics that we call human? How do these changes affect the people the family members become? Indeed, what it means to be a person.

The novel begins at the point in life when most people begin to develop their self-identity, their definition of personhood – adolescence. The adolescence in question belongs to Anna, who was conceived to be a donor to her older sister, Kate. Throughout Anna’s childhood, as Kate fell into relapses, her body has been their parents’ solution to her sister’s lease on life. Now as Anna is 13, her chronically ill sister is dying. Kate needs a kidney and Anna is the one to give it to her, until Anna walks into a lawyer’s office and demands that he help her claim her body as her own. The family embarks on a series of difficult choices. Can a mother force one daughter to save another at her own risk? Can Anna live at the expense of her sister or continue to save her sister at her own expense? Who will give Anna the answers? And who is Anna if not the family’s savior?

Because the story is told from the perspective of nearly every character in the book, the reader is able to see the situation from many angles, including those outside the family. The advantage to telling the story in this manner is that the reader understands the effect on each character, even the nuances that the characters themselves do not recognize. Thus, the reader can grasp the depth to which on-going tragedy as the cornerstone of a family saturates every aspect of life.

Picoult is a literary genius when it comes to unlocking and conveying the human psyche. She constructs an extremely convincing portrayal of a strange and groundbreaking subject. Her characters are plausible and enlightening.

This book is sure to provoke thought, feeling and possibly tears.

-Emily Craven is a sales associate at Neighbors Bookstore.


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