Are Bestsellers Really Good?: My Sister’s Keeper

Hey everyone! Sorry that its been awhile. I’ve been trying to balance everything out and I’m still struggling a little bit. But I have several blog ideas, so that’s good, right? There’s quite a thunderstorm raging right now. Pretty fun to watch.

Down to Business

So I’ve been thinking about best sellers a lot and wondering how many of them actually deserve the title of “best seller”.  I read My Sister’s Keeper by Jodi Picoult last summer because the medical aspect pulled me in.  However, once I finished the book, I had several problems with the book.

WARNING: This blog contains massive spoilers for the book My Sister’s Keeper by Jodi Picoult.  If you have not read this book and plan on reading it, do not read this blog!  You have been warned.

I have several issues with My Sister’s Keeper.  Some vary from minor, irritating problems to huge problems.  The basic plot Anna Fitzgerald was born because she was a genetic match for her older sister Kate.  Her cord blood was to put Kate’s resistant leukemia into remission.  When Kate’s cancer kept coming back, more kept being taken from Anna.  Eventually, the treatments used to cure Kate put her into renal failure.  This is where the story beings, Anna going to a lawyer to sue her parents for the rights to her body..  Interesting concept, right?  It drew me in.

The Number of Narrators

One of the first issues I had with the novel was the amount of narrators.  Of the 11 main(ish) characters (that wikipedia lists), 7 of them are narrators (one of which is only used in the prologue and epilogue).  It might just be personal preference, but that’s way too many narrators for the story.  Having so many narrators muddles the point of view, especially since its a 1st person multiple point of view.  The one thing I liked about the multiple narrators was the fact that Sara (the mother) was usually a reflective POV.  It gave us the backstory of Kate’s sickness and how Anna came to be.  I think the novel would have been more successful if there had been fewer voices going on.  Its one thing to rotate through 3 or 4 point of views, but ping-ponging between six throughout the body of the novel is a bit much.  It jerks the reader around and pulls them from the story.

On top of that, I don’t think some of the voices were necessary.  Jesse has his own storyline throughout the novel which pertains to his father and how he is dealing with a terminally ill younger sister.  However, it doesn’t really add to the story.  It’s just there.  While the voices of Campbell and Julia add the sense of law to the novel, I believe the novel could have functioned wonderfully with only ONE of their voices.

The Amount of Subplots

In novels, there are subplots.  It happens.  However, they should always drive towards the climax of the novel.  As I mentioned before, Jesse has his own subplot throughout the novel in which he sets buildings on fire.  How does this pertain to Anna and Kate?  This is just showing how Jesse has been effected by his sister’s illness.  This does not drive towards the trial.  This does not deal with Anna’s medical emancipation.  Why is this in the novel?

Likewise with the romantic subplot between Julia and Campbell.  This doesn’t add to the story in the slightest.  If anything, it detracts from the main plot because of the sexual tension between the two of them.  Campbell’s illness only gives a flimsy connection between he and Anna (not having control over their bodies).  It doesn’t really drive towards the main plot of of Anna’s medical emancipation.

Typeface for your Convenience

A variation of the classic trope.  When I read the prologue, I disregarded the fact that it was in an italic font, because sometimes a prologue is like that.  Then I got to the first section, Anna’s first section and saw a youthful looking font.  I Once I got to the next chapter, I realized that the prologue had been from a different character, presumably Kate.

Some people like that there are different fonts for different characters.  It makes it easy for them to tell who is narrating.  But the point is that the reader shouldn’t have to rely on the font to tell who is speaking.  For one, it is a first person novel.  The voice alone should be able to tell the reader who is there.  The characters should all have different ways of narrating the world.  Its one thing to make things clear to the reader, but to treat them like they’re stupid isn’t cool.

The Ending

Yup.  I’m going there.

My first problem with the ending is the heavy-handed foreshadowing and cliched.  For several chapters we get the same opening “It was raining”.   Because of the cliche that bad things happen when it rains, the reader has already determined that something bad is going to happen.  This is very heavy-handed!  Maybe say it once, but every narrator doesn’t need to note that it’s raining!  The reader is not stupid.

Anna’s death.  This is really a “life sucks” sort of thing.  It is sudden.  But that’s how life is, right?  However, it feels fake.  To me, it felt like the end was cheating.  The entire novel we’re preparing for Kate’s death; and then right out of the hearing that grants Anna medical emancipation, she gets into a bad car crash?  It feels forced.  Maybe that’s how the author wanted the reader to feel, but from a writing standpoint it feels like cheating.  You’ve killed off your main character and that’s a big writing no-no.

Death scenes, in general, are hard to believe.  They will always feel artificial to people.  I almost wish that they had ended with seeing her hooked up to machines to eliminate the artificial-ness that surrounds death scenes.

Conclusion

I can see why Picoult’s My Sister’s Keeper rocketed to the bestseller’s list.  It pulls at the heartstrings and covers some controversial ideas.  However, it really isn’t that great from a writing standpoint.  The plot is bogged down by subplots and extra narrators and the ending feels off.

Let me know what you think.

~Laura

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