I hate novels that question parenthood, simply because too often I find myself thinking, “Well, I’d never do THAT.” So I have to go through the whole knock on wood routine and hope it doesn’t just invite divine retribution for being overly critical. This was the case with the novel My Sister’s Keeper by Jodi Picoult. After reading the summary of the novel, I knew that I would never make the decisions that the parents shown did. After reading the novel, I found myself wondering what I could really do if my son was faced with death.
In case you missed it, 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 to Kate and shared her umbilical cord blood to save her sister’s life. By the time she’s thirteen, when the novel takes place, she’s been in the hospital almost as long as Kate, donating things like blood and bone marrow. After being asked to donate a kidney, she seeks legal emancipation from her parents. And she thus begins the story.
One of the things that bothered me was the change of point of view chapter by chapter. It was handled very well and once I got past the irritation stage I had to admit that it helped move the story forward. And so we jump through the minds of Anna, her attorney, 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 occurs in the present, with the notable exception of her mother. Instead, we trace the mother’s path to learning that her daughter has leukemia and what decisions led her (and Anna) to the present moment. This was also initially annoying, but it turned out to be a good choice; I’m not sure the same impact would have been had if we simply had the mother facing back. It would have been so much easier to judge her in that moment than to see her experience her pain.
In fact, it was from Sara’s perspective that I learned the most and questioned myself. If my little daughter, the light of my life, was threatened with death, how far would she go to save her? I don’t think the idea of conceiving a child specifically for that purpose would have honestly occurred to me, but what do you do once the idea has been planted? Also, it’s clear that Sara loves and appreciates Anna, even as she cares incessantly for Katie. True, she neglects her, but she also neglects her child, who had been born before the diagnosis, turning most of her attention to her sick child. And while this also made me judge, it also made me wonder: would I be able to balance my focus on all my children if one was battling a lifelong disease? How easy would it be to make small decisions that hurt others in order to save one?
In short, I hated this well-written, well-developed, and well-argued book because it made me think. My moral and religious side rejects the notion of a test-tube baby conceived for a specific purpose, but the mother in me wonders. If my son were starving, how easy would it be to stay true to my moral views and not steal (assuming, of course, that the government wasn’t around to save me)? If someone threatened my son, how far would he go to protect him? In short, when it comes to a critical moment, how faithful would I stay?
In order to fall asleep, I have to make sure that, of course, I would be perfect in all things. And then I slam hard into the nearest piece of wood, and pray I never have to find out.