May 16, 2011

The Weeknight Book Club: Sing You Home by Jodi Picoult.

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'Sing You Home' would have to be the most controversial Jodi Picoult novel I've read.  Jodi covers many social and political issues in this novel but does not sacrifice her trademark detailed research and richly crafted characters and their points of view.  I'm linking to a review of the novel from the Irish Independent newspaper that might be of interest.

I think it is this complexity that paradoxically sharpened my attention whislt reading 'Sing You Home'. Without the themes of same sex marriage, religious conversion, teenage mental illness and the ethical implications of IVF, this could well have been just a pedestrian account of a couple torn apart by infertility and childlessness.  Not that Jodi Picoult would be capable of publishing 'just another' novel.

Zoe is a music therapist who works with people of all ages to help them come through trauma or disability.  It's draining work but she loves it.  At the beginning of the novel, she's nearly at full term with her first successful pregnancy after a string of failed cycles of IVF.  The causes of infertility for her and Max (her husband) are multifactorial, both she and Max having diagnosed medical problems that have contributed to their predicament.

A tragedy of nightmarish proportions strikes Zoe at her baby shower.  She has a massive haemorrhage and eventually has a still birth.  The guests at the shower were a hastily invited group of Zoe's acquaintances including Vanessa, a highschool counsellor who casually knew Zoe through work.

Not having a single close girl friend at her baby shower highlights to Zoe just how isolated she has become in her journey to motherhood.  As her friends got pregnant and became mothers, it became increasingly painful for Zoe to be around them and their children.  All she needed, she thought, was Max.  The only person who really understood and felt the same pain.  The one who went through every stage of treatment with her.

The problem with this though, is that in losing her girlfriends, Zoe lost a network of people able to give her suppport and challenge her when she became to single minded about getting pregnant.  Without their objectivity, Zoe finds herself treating Max like a sperm bank she happens to be married to.  Eventually, the pair begin divorce proceedings and the divorce is finalized about halfway into the novel.

Max has other demons to contend with.  He's been an alcoholic for all the time he's been with Zoe.  The only family Max has is Reid, his successful and devoutly Christian older brother and Liddy, Reid's wife.  Reid and Liddy have also been umable to conceive though they have not taken the step to obtain medical assistance.

Max barely survives the months after the divorce.  He drinks heavily and nearly dies in a car accident.  Reid and Liddy take him in and eventually, Max comes to know Christ.  He also sees a different side to the 'prissy and annoying' Liddy that he and Zoe used to mock.

During this time, Zoe also undergoes huge changes in her life.  She falls in love with Vanessa and they marry in another state where same sex marriage is recognized.  They return home to Rhode Island and Zoe is immersed in trying to help a complex patient, Lucy, who has self harmed in the past but due to her parents' religious beliefs, does not receive formal psychiatric care for this.

At the time of the divorce, Zoe and Max did not even think to consider the fate of their fertilized embryos.  All other assets were divided equally but the embryos were not accounted for.  Zoe wants Vanessa to carry their child using these embryos.  Max, now an ultra conservative Christian wants to give the embryos to his brother and sister in law.  The plot then focuses on the legal battle for the embryos.  Who is more 'right' to be parents of these embryos - a loving and committed lesbian couple or a devoutly Christian and financially secure heterosexual couple.

There is a suprise twist to the ending but I won't spoil it for you.

Wow, that's quite a plot and it kept me turning the pages.  It is hard to be completely objective when writing about characters with extreme religious viewpoints that may be completely contrary to what the author feels is right.  However, I think Picoult did an admirable job in not completely demonizing the whole Christian faith.  So often, it's the imperfect followers of a faith who commit the sins and act on bigotry based on a human interpretation of a Holy book rather than the words and teachings of the religion expressly telling its followers to behave in a certain way towards other human beings.

I'm in this for the long haul.  Can't wait for Jodi Picoult's next novel!


  1. Glad you commented on my review of this book, so I could find yours. Such a great read!

    If you haven't read it yet, read Nineteen Minutes next.

  2. Another good book review by you. Good, because it has made me want to visit the library tomorrow (or this week at least) and borrow a copy.
    Thank you


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