Book Review: My Sister’s Keeper

by Dru Hunsaker

I suppose you could say that I’m a bit late to the party when it comes to Jodi Picoult’s My Sister’s Keeper. After all, the book was published more than a decade ago and a movie was made in 2009, but sometimes I wonder if we allow the messages explored in books from the past to fade away when we focus only on those that seem relevant to us in the present. Numerous times I have heard those around me remark that Jodi Picoult is not a writer of “literary merit,” but I firmly believe that an author need not craft the Great American Novel to produce a work worth considering. While she is not the most gifted crafter of words that I have ever beheld, I can say with some degree of certainty that My Sister’s Keeper was a book that made me think long after I devoured its final pages and closed it for the last time. And isn’t that the purpose of Picoult’s genre? While reading is certainly an enjoyable pass time, I would assert that a gifted writer is capable of producing a story that is moving in itself, but contains some kind of message that makes the reader reconsider a preconceived notion about life or introduces a moral quandary that is pertinent to the state of society as a whole.

My Sister’s Keeper is the story of Anna Fitzgerald, a “savior sibling” who was created through the miracles of modern medicine to act as a cord blood and bone marrow transplant option for her sister Kate, who is struggling with an aggressive case of leukemia. Anna spends most of her life in and out of hospitals with her sister, donating blood, platelets, etc. and watching as her sister enters remission and relapses time and time again. When Anna is thirteen, her sister goes into renal failure and needs a kidney transplant or she will die. Anna’s mother insists that Kate have the transplant, despite her doctor’s warning that Kate is not strong enough for a transplant and Anna may donate for nothing. Consequently, Anna, with the help of secretive and emotionally withdrawn lawyer Campbell Alexander, sues for medical emancipation from her parents so that she can control her own body. 

Through all of the twists and turns of this novel, the reader is drawn into the story of a family that is hanging on by a thread, lovers who are separated by lies, and the miraculous little girl who manages to bring them all together with her ultimate sacrifice. Although Anna does not always understand why she was created or who she is, her strength and compassion left me choking back tears at the conclusion of the novel.

Jodi Picoult’s novel will never be accepted as cannon literature. It will never win any grand awards. There may be some errors and some characters who fall a little flat, but the entire story is a deeply moving commentary on the families of children with disease, the formation of identity, and the consequences of allowing science to move forward faster than ethics. Rather than assuming the content and message of a book is clichéd or irrelevant, withhold judgement about the characters and be moved by a beautiful story about love and sacrifice. Though I read My Sister’s Keeper for an English class, its influence on my thinking expanded far beyond the walls of the classroom.

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