This is my book club's pick this month. The waiting list for this book at the library was about 30 people long so I ended up getting the cassettes since no one had them on hold.
I'm sure that I'm going to offend some people with this review and I'm sorry about that, but I well and truly hated this book. I debated whether or not to be completely honest in my review, whether to tone down my hatred, but I decided against it. Maybe if this had been a book sent to me by the author I could have held my tongue a bit better, but I'm not sure ...
*** The Plot ***
Shay Bourne is convicted of the murder of 7 year old Elizabeth and her police officer step-father, Kurt. June, Elizabeth's mother and Kurt's wife, is pregnant with baby Clare at the time of the murder. Shay is sentenced to death by lethal injection. Eleven years later, Shay's appeals have all been denied and his execution date is set. He's moved to a new part of the prison and suddenly strange, almost miraculous, things start happening (think The Green Mile, sort of).
In the 11 years since the trial, one of the jurors has become a Catholic priest and Clare has been diagnosed with a heart condition that requires a transplant. Fr. Michael becomes Shay's spiritual advisor and begins to think Shay has some special connection to God. Shay decides that he'd rather be hung than die by lethal injection, that way he can donate his heart to Clare. Shay's new lawyer works with Fr. Michael to try to make this happen. The story ends with the resolution of all these varied plot lines.
*** The Narrators ***
As with (most? all?) Picoult's books, the story is told from various points of view.
- Fr. Michael - the former-juror-turned-priest who is against the death penalty
- Lucius - the convicted murder who has AIDS and who is in the cell next to Shay's
- June - mother and wife to Shay's murder victims, and mother to Elizabeth
- Maggie - the ACLU attorney working on Shay's case
- Clare - the heart patient (she gets one section at the very end)
*** What I Didn't Like ***
This is a long list but there was so much wrong with this book that I simply can't condense it. Some of my bullet points may include spoilers but I will clearly note that at the start of each bullet.
My first points are about the writing style. These alone would have made me dislike the book but not more so than any other poorly written novel.
- All the characters are flat - they have no personality, no voice. When the point of view changes, Picoult leads off by stating the character's name then continuing the story. If she didn't do that, you'd have no idea who is telling the story. Open up to a random page in Barbara Kingsolver's THE POISONWOOD BIBLE and you can tell exactly which character is speaking simply by reading a few sentences - and she has 5 different narrators! The only reason I was able to keep Picolt's characters straight was that each was narrated by a different person.
- Shay's character is supposed to have trouble speaking. He's described as having difficulty stringing words together to form complete sentences. However the readers only know that because Picoult TELLS us; when Shay is speaking, he sounds pretty normal. The only thing that comes across is that he sometimes rambles on about random topics, but even that doesn't happen often. It's like the author is saying "Shay has trouble speaking - just take my word for it, even if you can't tell when he does actually speak."
- Big Spoiler Alert! Don't read this bullet point if you don't want to know the ending. ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
When Shay is being hung the witnesses can "conveniently" see through the curtain above the platform but they just as "conveniently" can't see through the curtain below the platform. This may be a small thing but it really bugged me. Wouldn't the curtains both be made of the same material? It's a blatant plot device and doesn't make any sense except that it allows the author to let the reader see what she wants seen. Oh, and the use of the circus tent to cover the gallows was a bit of over-the-top symbolism too.
- Minor spoiler alert! This doesn't give away anything huge though.
After hearing about Shay's "miracles" Fr. Michael starts questioning his own faith. He goes so far as to believe (consider believing?) that Shay is God or Jesus. SERIOUSLY?! They guy is a priest - he's spent years in seminary and more years working in his parish - and you're telling me that he changes his entire belief system just like that?! This was so far beyond believable for me that it tainted my opinion of the rest of the book.
- Then there's Maggie, the overweight Jewish atheist ACLU lawyer with a rabbi for a father. I don't think it is possible for her to be any more stereotypical. And she just happens to meet a gorgeous doctor (with a British accent no less) who loves her for who she is. Did I mention that this love story totally does not fit with the rest of the book? [In case you don't know, ACLU is the American Civil Liberties Union.]
- And on the topic of the ACLU, the first case we see Maggie win is on behalf of a punk high school kid who decides he doesn't want to say the Pledge of Allegiance just to irritate his teacher. I'm sorry, but I don't see any reason to admire that "victory". It's not like the kid had some religious belief that was being violated - he was just being a punk, and his defiance of his teacher was rewarded. That is supposed to be a GOOD thing? *blech*
- The thing that bothered me the most about this book is the fact that no one was allowed to have a firm belief in anything. I know it is politically correct to say "I believe this way but whatever you believe is right for you" however I don't know many people who ACTUALLY believe that way. All the people in this book do though. Fr. Michael questions his faith and decides that there are many truths. Maggie is pretty convinced there is no God but she doesn't remain firm all the time. Her rabbi father doesn't seem to mind that his daughter is an atheist, nor does he think Fr. Michael is all wrong either. *gah* Can't we please have a character who believes something and actually STICKS TO IT?!
- You know a book is bad when you get to the very end and you should out loud "Oh come on! You have GOT to be kidding me!" That is exactly what I did at the end of the last cassette.
There were only two things that I liked about this book, and they were minor plot points.
- Maggie is talking to the doctor (before they are dating) and he says "I'm Christian." She thinks this is an odd statement but she replies by laying out her own religious beliefs. His reply? "No, I mean my NAME is Christian." ~LOL~
- June is often with Clare in the hospital and at one point Clare is having surgery. The scene where June is with Clare in the operating room and Clare is being put under anesthesia is VERY accurate. I've been there with kiddo many times* and Picoult really got it right. Other than the fact that I didn't have to wear a surgical mask every other part of that scene was a direct reflection of my experience with kiddo.
My book club is getting this Saturday morning to discuss this book and I'm dreading it. That's really the reason that I wrote such a long post; I wanted to clarify my thoughts before our meeting.
I know I'm not the only one who didn't like it (one gal didn't finish it because it was so bad, and at least one other hated it) but there are two gals who mentioned that it was getting better with every chapter. WHAT?!?! I can sense a big clash in the making ...
UPDATE: So, the meeting wasn't that bad after all. You can read all about it at my book club's blog.
*** Your Thoughts ***
Have any of you read this? If you have and you liked it, please forgive me for ranting so much. And after you forgive me, post a comment and tell me what you liked about this book. I promise not to jump all over you - I really want to know!
And as always I'm happy to post links to your reviews right here.
* Kiddo has multiple severe food allergies and also a rare condition known as Eosinophilic Esophagitis (EE). Because of his EE he has to have endoscopies done every few months. I think he's done 4 or 5 now and there are more planned in the coming year.