With a Combination of Suspence and Complex Relationships, Jodi Picoult Has Become One of LIterary Fictions True Stars
Jodi Picoult has left her stamp on popular fiction with her complex use of suspense, love, and hate. “Ms. Picoult has carved her own niche with her novels – one part romance, one part courtroom thriller, two part social commentary,” (Dallas Morning News). Jodi Picoult’s writing makes it hard to surpass many of her outstanding, best-seller books such as, My Sister’s Keeper, Nineteen Minutes, and Vanishing Acts. Each of these three books has an excellent plot surrounding the legal system, and a strong use of description with similes, metaphors, and analogies.
In My Sister’s Keeper, Picoult’s idea of a legal system is clearly identified when Anna files a lawsuit on her parents for entitlement to her own body, and is forced to testify against her two loving parents.
“I have always known that at some point, Anna would have to take a stand. In a case about emancipation of a minor, it stands to reason that a judge would want to hear from the minor herself. Anna might be acting skittish about testifying, but I believe that subconsciously, it’s what she really wants to do. Why else go to the trouble of instigating a lawsuit, if not to make sure that you finally get to speak your mind” (347-348).
Anna’s lawyer, Mr. Campbell, is concerned that Anna doesn’t want to testify, but regardless of her feelings and uncertainties of breaking people’s hearts, she has no other choice if she wants to win the case of being ownership of her own body. Sometimes in court cases, there isn’t a choice of what can/cannot happen based on what is wanted to win the trial or not. Once a lawsuit is filed and you’re sent to court, there is no turning around; you must always remain dedicated to the pertaining case. As the trial continues on for two more days, the closing arguments of both the prosecutor and the defendant are made. Mr. Campbell argues,
“I didn’t want to come to court, but I had to. The way the law works, if a petitioner takes action – even if that’s your own child – you must have a reaction. And so I was forced to explain, eloquently, why I believe that I know better than Anna what is best for her. When you get down to it, though, explaining what you believe isn’t all that easy. If you say that you believe something to be true, you might mean one of two things – that you’re still weighing the alternatives, or that you accept it as a fact…” (405).
Basically what he is trying to say is that, it’s hard to justify, especially in a court setting, on beliefs. There needs to be enough facts or enough witnesses in defending a case. Anna and her lawyer didn’t base their case on beliefs, but on what is suppose to be morally and ethically right. Picoult specifically made this court case about emancipation of Anna instead of Kate’s (has APL) potential death, if her sister didn’t give her her kidney, because she wanted her readers to understand the pain that Anna was going through, and the drastic actions that she took going against her parents’ backs.
Another book written by Picoult that portrays the legal system is Nineteen Minutes. A complete opposite from My Sister’s Keeper, but the same general idea of how a legal system works, specifically evidence being a key part in winning a trial. In this particular case, Peter Houghton was the offender toward twenty-nine students at Sterling High. His trial was based on evidence that he planned the shootings and killings of ten students and injuries of nineteen others. For example, Diana Uppergate, the prosecutor, concludes that, “The definition of sanity implies being in touch with the reality of what you are doing at the time you do it. There’s evidence that Peter had been planning his attack for a while – from stockpiling ammunition and guns, to making lists of targeted victims… The shooting was not a departure for Peter – it was something he had been considering all along, with great premeditation,” (400). Many times, in a case, attorneys need evidence to help support their arguments. Without it, it is hard to determine if the perpetrator is innocent or guilty, like in Peter’s scenario; however, it doesn’t prove that he planned the whole incident. There are some situations during a trial where the defendant has a hard time defending the perpetrator, especially when the person being justified is a murderer. Jordan McAfee, Peter Houghton’s lawyer claims that, “the grounds that I’ve got absolutely nothing better to salvage my case…,” (420). Peter’s attorney had a hard time defending him because he had no evidence of Peter’s actions being ethically right, whereas the prosecutor had a load of information that potentially helped win the case. Picoult’s presentation of the cases or trials provided a strong indication of what the struggles are when facing a murder trial.
Similar to the other two books, My Sister’s Keeper, and Nineteen Minutes, the legal system is dealt again in Vanishing Acts. This time; however, Picoult focuses on love versus crime. The idea of when it’s all right to let love intervene during a court case such as, when Andrew, a loving father and kidnapper, reminisces about his past actions and compares it to the aftermath. “When I took you, I knew this was always a possibility. But risk always looks different when you are beating the system than when you’ve been beaten,” (101). Andrew is a loving, caring man, a total opposite of an expected criminal. At the time when he took his daughter, it was purely out of love and protection, but it wasn’t until twenty-eight years later did the police catch him and he was put up against the legal system. Sometimes actions may seem like a good idea at some point in time, though, eventually they come back and sting like a bee and those actions are then viewed as not so good ideas. Toward the end of the trial, Andrew had a totally different attitude about kidnapping his daughter. He said, “Maybe I kidnapped my daughter. Maybe I broke the law. But you can’t tell me that what I did was wrong,” (384). He all of a sudden doesn’t care about breaking the law or spending the remainder of his life in jail; Andrew knew that what he did was right for the sake and the protection of the child. Picoult in each of these three books gave a new insight into what happens when facing the legal system in many different cases, either it being emancipation, a murder, or simply love, she gives a clear understanding of what is occurring between the different situations.
The final important literary element is Picoult’s variety of description. In each of her books she gives clear, vivid understanding of the main ideas by using either similes, metaphors, or analogies. For My Sister’s Keeper, Picoult describes the relation between stars and humans not being what they seem. “Things don’t always look as they seem. Some stars, for example, look like bright pinholes, but when you get them pegged under a microscope you find you’re looking at a globular cluster- a million stars that, to us, presents as a single entity. On a less dramatic note there are triplets, like Alpha Centauri, which up close turns out to be a double star and a red dwarf in close proximity,” (382). Throughout My Sister’s Keeper, Anna’s parents have a hard time understanding who she is. What is sometimes viewed on the outside isn’t the same on the inside, and her parents have a hard time accepting that, especially during the trial of emancipation. This is also clearly shown when Anna has second thoughts about the actions she has made, and the pain that she has caused toward her parents. “There, they understand: I am a monster. I started this lawsuit for some reasons I’m proud of and many I’m not. And now Campbell will see why I couldn’t be a witness – not because I was scared to talk in front of everyone – but because of all these terrible feelings, some of which are two awful to speak out loud…,” (391). Anna is terrified to go up on to that stand and speak her mind, especially when one person, her mother, sees her in a certain way, and then has to find out in a hearing that her daughter isn’t who she thought she was. Sometimes there are cases where a person is deceived in a different light, and Picoult does a great job portraying this throughout the story pertaining to many different situations.
As for Nineteen Minutes, instead of experiencing things that are unknown about a person, all the students that go to Sterling High have an idea of who people are and where they fit in. Peter Houghton, the shooter of twenty-nine people, wasn’t typically a favorite around the school; he was an outsider.
“When you don’t fit in, you become superhuman. You can feel everyone else’s eyes on you, stuck like Velcro. You can hear a whisper about you from a mile away. You can disappear, even when it looks like you’re still standing right there. You can scream, and nobody hears a sound. You become the mutant who fell into the vat of acid, the Joker who can’t remove his mask, the bionic man who’s missing all his limbs and none of his heart. You are the thing that used to be normal, but that was so long ago, you can’t even remember what it was like,” (137).
Peter Houghton was so isolated from his life that it was so hard to “return back” to the person he was before, and have people recognize that he wasn’t so much different. Picoult clearly indicated what it feels like to be out of place; humans aren’t the only ones, villains and super heroes, can feel the same way too. Not only do people know their certain place, they also understand that every action taken, every word spoken is being watched. This is how Peter felt when he was in school and outside of school; however, he could be himself outside of school without feeling discriminated against. He described it as, “inside was different: a fishbowl where anything you said and did was being watched by everyone else,” (210). Picoult relates the fishbowl to Peter’s situation because he is trapped inside this glass bowl where everyone is constantly judging and making comments against one another, good or bad, so each and every student can see. High school throughout this book is a laughing stock, a jail where there are no “ins and outs”; people are made out to be who they’re supposed to be.
In Vanishing Acts, Picoult focuses on life. She does this by using many metaphors such as, when she is describing, “life is not a plot: it’s in the details,” (325). Many of the characters throughout the book experience a point in their lives where life just gets too complicated to bear. They suffer through trauma, hate loneliness, and long-lost memories, but Picoult’s characters also experience love, friendship, and acceptance. It’s a whirlwind of events that can’t be summarized to just one or two main ideas, but explained in details of their experiences and memories. Memories are another important part of this book, either forgotten or remembered. Delia, the daughter of the kidnapper, questions this idea many times throughout her life. For instance, she questions, “Why do some memories bleed out of nowhere and others stay locked behind doors,” (346). She suffers from a lost past and can’t seem to remember anything that occurred up until her father kidnapped her. Sometimes memories are things that aren’t meant to be remembered, but repeatedly are, and there are times when you hope that the good times are played over and over again. This is what Picoult wanted to get out of her book Vanishing Acts, that things are remembered for certain reasons throughout our lifetime.
Either your reading about emancipation, a shooting incident, or a kidnapper, you will find in each of Jodi Picoult’s books, My Sister’s Keeper; Nineteen Minutes; and Vanishing Acts, love, hate, suspense, acceptance, and so much more. Picoult truly knows how to capture her audience with her many different plots surrounding the legal system, and her use of description to better understand, not only the stories, but the main ideas as well. “Picoult is a skilled wordsmith, and she beautifully creates situations that not only provoke the mind but touch the flawed souls in all of us,” (Boston Globe).