October Book Review: "A Spark of Light"

Oct 8, 2019

Jodi Picoult's last nine novels all debuted at #1 on the New York Times Bestseller list.  Here's Barb Bretz with a review of her latest book, "A Spark of Light."

Jodi Picoult wraps a story around controversial social issues and develops empathetic characters to hash out the problems and solutions. She's addressed powerful topics before but in her 24th novel she pushes the hottest button of all: Abortion - with a CAPITAL “A”. How do we balance the rights of a pregnant woman with the rights of the unborn they carry?

At the corner of Juniper and Montfort stands a women's reproductive health services clinic - the only one in the state of Mississippi providing legal abortions. Every day, staff and clients make their way through the gauntlet of vocal protestors. Today, at mid-morning, a desperate gunman bursts into the clinic and fires wildly... taking several lives and holding the rest hostage.

Narrating the story backward from 5 pm to the start of the day, Picoult introduces us to the players in the most intimate way. She reveals the life experiences which have led them to be at this place, at this time. She shows us the issues from all angles and blurs the lines between right and wrong, good and evil, hero and villain.

Whether it's stem cell research, gay rights, death penalty, racism, euthanasia, or any past subject, Picoult does her homework and builds those facts and figures into the text. She interviewed 151 women who had terminated a pregnancy, observed a 5-week, an 8-week and a 15-week abortion and talked to pro-life advocates who spoke from deep personal conviction.

Picoult writes about subjects that keep her awake at night - issues she doesn't know the answer to. She says, “The act of writing ... is the act of trying to understand why my opinion is what it is. And ultimately, I think that's the same experience the reader has when they pick up one of my books."

Picoult never tells you HOW to feel, but lays it out so you WILL feel. I'm grateful she uses her platform to promote more discussion, insight and understanding. Believe it or not, common ground exits between the extreme ends of this argument, but it takes a walk from both sides to get there. Be sure to read the author's notes at the end.

"A Spark of Light" by Jodi Picoult is available at our local libraries. This is Barbara Bretz for KPCW.