Jodi Picoult’s latest book A Spark of Light is a terrific read. The novel’s structure is interesting in two ways, both of them challenging but superbly executed: The story builds backward from the climax, and there are several characters with points of view.
The characters’ perspectives are in conflict to one another—to the point of life and death—but Picoult portrays them all in a way that makes them easy to empathize with. The book focuses on the theme of women’s reproductive rights. The topic is difficult, divisive, and controversial, but Picoult handles it courageously and fairly.
Within the fast-moving story, there are moments of writerly depth. A couples passages particularly stood out to me:
“One minute, Olive had been there, staring so fierce at Wren—as if she could hold on to the world if her eyes stayed open—and then, in a beat, those eyes stopped being windows and became mirrors, and Wren saw only a reflection of her own panic.”
To be a woman mean to have “to make decisions, sometimes terrible ones. Children were told what to do. Adults made up their own minds, even when their options tore them apart.”
Picoult did a tremendous amount of research in order to portray the topic honestly. In addition to speaking to experts in the field, Picoult spoke with 151 women about their abortions. Her concluding sentence in the Acknowledgments section is, “It is my hope that as more stories like this are told, fewer women will have to remain anonymous.”
In her concluding notes, Picoult also connects status and class with the topic of women’s reproductive rights. It is illuminating to read, for instance, that between the years 2000 and 2008: “For women in poverty, abortion rates increased 18 percent. For wealthy women, abortion declined by 24 percent. That means poor women are getting pregnant when they don’t want to. In fact seven out of ten women who terminated a pregnancy made less than $22,000 a year.”
A Spark of Light is an excellent book for all kinds of readers—for women who have had abortions or considered them, for women and men who are opposed to them, and for anyone who wants to read an enjoyable story told at a galloping pace.
The lives of ordinary people become intertwined when a gunman takes hostages at a women’s clinic in the #1 New York Times bestselling author’s latest.
At Mississippi’s sole remaining women’s reproductive services clinic, a gunman bursts in and takes its patients and staff hostage. The stories that brought these individuals to the clinic vary, from a woman awaiting cancer screening results to a protestor hoping to catch the clinic in a scandal that could be used in a pro-life campaign. Then there is the police hostage negotiator, whose daughter is also trapped inside the facility, and the gunman himself, who has a vendetta to carry out. Meanwhile, across the state, a seventeen-year-old woman lands in the hospital after an attempt to self-terminate her pregnancy and is subsequently charged by the pro-life DA for the murder of her unborn child. They, too, are connected to the events unfolding in the clinic.
As the book moves backward in time, each chapter set one hour earlier than the last, we learn how all these people and their stories are unwittingly connected–and that none of these characters’ reasons for being where they are at this fateful place and time are exactly what it appears at first glance.