Jodi Picoult has been my favourite author for approximately 12 years. It all started with one of my teachers recommending her most well-known titles, My Sister’s Keeper (2004), to the class as one of the best books she had ever read with a twist at the end that she did not see coming. Naturally, I was curious and had to see what it was all about – and, of course, I loved it just as she did.
This launched me into reading another book that I could get my hands on through the book club at school, The Tenth Circle (2006) – less was less overwhelmingly awesome to me, but I still found the story absolutely compelling and her storytelling was what set her apart from anything else that I had ever read, especially at the young age that I was when I was exposed to her writing.
Although each Jodi Picoult novel has its unique setting, characters and conflict, there are certainly patterns and similarities which are what makes her novels so very compelling to so many readers around the globe. They typically centre around a very topical and, at times, controversial subject matter. For example, Nineteen Minutes (2007) tells of a school shooting, and Sing You Home (2011) deals with issues of the civil and legal rights of LGBTQ people. There is generally a large court case and legal battle that simmers throughout the novel, with the pivotal scenes occurring towards the end of the book. And there are often twists in the tale which are unforeseen to the average reader (hence, the original recommendation to me of My Sister’s Keeper, but I certainly didn’t see the ending coming of either Second Glance (2003) or Leaving Time (2014) – they were complete shocks to me!)
But it’s so much more than just an addictive plot line which makes readers such as myself keep coming back for more Jodi Picoult novels (she’s written over 20 books now, and still going strong). It’s her strong sense of place – she transports readers from Amish country, to Nazi Germany and to suburban United States of America. It’s her strong lead characters – Maggie, the lawyer from Change of Heart (2008) still remains one of my favourite characters I’ve ever had the pleasure of reading. Her characters are vulnerable but tough, villainous but empathetic, and also tragic but pitiless.
It’s this incredible mix which had led to her devoted readership and bestselling status worldwide, but has also rooted her as a go-to for booksellers and book clubs alike. That’s not to say that her books aren’t also considered in the “literary fiction” manner of speaking – as an author, she has been extremely outspoken both politically and socially, which mean that her books land as springing boards for incredibly important subjects, made all the more poignant by any given contemporary situation. Nineteen Minutes remains to this day perhaps the most important novel she has ever written, especially where concerning mental health issues among young people, gun control laws in America, and the devastating consequences these things in combination can have on the families and communities involved. Although, her latest release, Small Great Things (2016), is an incredible rival for the title of most important novel ever…there will be more on this novel in an upcoming blog post for my Top 5 reads of 2016 – stay tuned!
Where I find that she really excels, though, is her blend of the hard-hitting political and social commentary with readability. She writes about family, relationships, love and heartbreak. And it is the way that these intertwine with the serious issues that make them so readable. She really brings the human face of these issues home to the reader. And it is this that makes her stand out from any other fiction writer in my opinion.
She is also working into becoming a more diverse writer in a diverse market. Her latest endeavour has been partnering with her daughter, Samantha Van Leer, in a pair of young adult novels – Between the Lines (2012) and Off The Page (2015). The premise of this book is a fairy-tale come to life – Delilah, a teenage girl, still loves the fairy-tale that she reads every single day. In particular, she loves Oliver, the hero of the story. She loves the story so much that she swears that the characters are speaking to her – but it is a complete shock to her to find that they really are.
It’s a sweet duo of stories that pair youthful innocence with an old-world wisdom about the power of storytelling. You can really see the pair working together in these stories, as there are classic Picoult words of wisdom that shine throughout the text – unforgettable epitaphs that really speak to the heart of the issue in a succinct way. And they’re just as beautiful in a young adult book as they are in any of her other books, as we’ve come to expect nothing less from such an accomplished and sophisticated writer.