Review | A Spark of Light | Jodi Picoult
Publication Date: October 2nd, 2018
Publisher: Ballantine Books
Why I Read This: Many thanks to Netgalley and Random House for sending Advanced Reader Copies. I’ve been looking forward to this book as soon as I heard about it- Picoult is one of my favorite authors.
Page Count: 356
Synopsis: From Amazon-The warm fall day starts like any other at the Center—a women’s reproductive health services clinic—its staff offering care to anyone who passes through its doors. Then, in late morning, a desperate and distraught gunman bursts in and opens fire, taking all inside hostage.
After rushing to the scene, Hugh McElroy, a police hostage negotiator, sets up a perimeter and begins making a plan to communicate with the gunman. As his phone vibrates with incoming text messages he glances at it and, to his horror, finds out that his fifteen-year-old daughter, Wren, is inside the clinic.
But Wren is not alone. She will share the next and tensest few hours of her young life with a cast of unforgettable characters: A nurse who calms her own panic in order to save the life of a wounded woman. A doctor who does his work not in spite of his faith but because of it, and who will find that faith tested as never before. A pro-life protester, disguised as a patient, who now stands in the cross hairs of the same rage she herself has felt. A young woman who has come to terminate her pregnancy. And the disturbed individual himself, vowing to be heard.
Told in a daring and enthralling narrative structure that counts backward through the hours of the standoff, this is a story that traces its way back to what brought each of these very different individuals to the same place on this fateful day.
Opening Sentence: "The Center squatted on the corner of Juniper and Montfort behind a wrought-iron gate, like an old bulldog used to guarding its territory.”
My Thoughts: This is my favorite Picoult book to date. That’s saying a lot, because my previous favorite, Nineteen Minutes, has held the top stop for over 10 years. If you’ve ever read anything by Picoult before, you know she doesn’t shy away from discussing hot button issues. She’s covered stem cells, school shootings, racism, religion… but the events in A Spark of Light takes things to a whole new level.
It’s a hostage situation at a woman’s health clinical in the south. The clinic provides many services, but they are the last abortion provider in the state of Mississippi, making them a target. To enter, the employees and the patients have to endure harassment from pro-life picketers. Both sides are passionate- but the Center’s main objective is to provide health services to the women who are in need. The book opens in an active shooter situation. Picoult’s ability to create tension was second to none- the story is told in reverse, so we know who’s been shot, who’s been killed, and are left with a cliffhanger as to how everything is going to end. But ultimately this isn’t a plot driven story- it’s about the people. There is a wide range of characters- Wren, a young girl who is there with her aunt. The doctor who has his personal reasons for being passionate about his cause, despite it being in opposition to his religious beliefs. A pro-lifer in disguise, trying to get dirt on the clinical to support her narrative. The shooter’s daughter, who wants nothing more than to be the girl her father thinks she is. And a number of others who happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time.
Picoult uses a lot of irony to drive the story, but this isn’t her first rodeo and it’s well done. For example- the hostage negotiator’s daughter is inside. A key character who is staunchly opposed to the clinic has had an abortion of her own. A seemingly well off nurse takes care of babies, but isn’t sure if she wants to have her own. Still, this book made me think. Since it’s told in reverse, you know the events that took place but I was constantly picking up on new information and feeing a sense of dread for what was coming. This isn’t a black and white issue. I know what side of the narrative I fall down upon, but I do there there are a lot of grey areas and these points are well presented throughout the story.
No matter which side of the debate you fall on, I recommend this. Yes, it’s political. It probably leans more pro choice than pro life. But at the very least, this will make you examine your viewpoint and can serve as a conversation starter. If you like for your current fiction to have staying power and be of the moment, then this might work for you.
Quote: "He looked into the eyes of each of the women. Warriors, every one of them…They were stronger than any men he’d ever known. For sure, they were stronger than the male politicians who were so terrified of them that they designed laws specifically to keep women down.”
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