Once again, one of my favorite authors has moved me. This story is about a girl named Jenna who is in search of her mother who disappeared when she was 3 years old. Jenna hunts down a detective and a psychic who are both, in spite of themselves, committed to helping her. And because Jenna’s mom, Alice, was a scientist who studied elephant behaviors, the reader is also given an extensive education about the surprisingly beautiful and evolved behaviors of elephants.
Jodi Picoult always researches her topics so completely that you always learn so much from her. But it’s the best kind of learning — it is woven into a fictional story that has so much tenderness and grace that you remember the facts without effort. There is always a great deal of suspense and twists and turns that keep you engaged until you turn the very last page.
The twists in this story are really zingers, though — just wait till you reach the end! I for one did not see this one coming!
The Storyteller by Jodi Picoult
So I have to share that this book was made all the more special to me because my daughter and I actually attended a reading of this book by Jodi Picoult herself! I was of course expecting the worst (cynic that I am) — that it would be a mob scene and we’d wait and wait only to be at the back of a huge room at the Barnes and Nobles at Union Square where we’d only catch a glimpse. But I was instead so pleasantly surprised! It was so well-organized and easy and utterly enjoyable. Ms. Picoult is the ultimate storyteller! She read from her book with the expression of a closet actress, she told us stories about the Holocaust survivors she interviewed during her research, and she so gracefully and with such humor answered many questions from the audience about herself and her writing. She is a gracious presence — she is smart and funny and warm and the kind of person you just want to go out and have a drink with. I could have listened to her for hours! After she signed our book and chatted with us for a minute or two, we walked away and my daughter turned to me and exclaimed, “Mom, I’m so star-struck!” I have to admit: I was too!
BUT on to the the book… The book has an outrageously “Picoultian”premise. A young, reclusive woman named Sage who has lost her mother, attends a grief support group where she befriends an old man in his 90’s. This man, Josef, admits to her that he is a former SS guard at Auschwitz and asks her to help him die and to forgive him of his sins. What he doesn’t know is that Sage’s grandmother is a Holocaust survivor. In fact, Sage doesn’t really even know much about her grandmother’s history as her grandmother has kept the details to herself all these years. This book is the resultant telling of stories — the recounting of history — by the two characters who lived it. It is also the process of sorting out the ideas of evil and good as well as forgiveness and revenge. Can someone who has committed hideous deeds ever be forgiven? And by whom? Can a good person do bad things and get beyond that and/or compensate for it? What is forgiveness?
As usual, Jodi Picoult gives the various perspectives on the story in her brilliant way and has the reader pondering yet another enormous, controversial issue. This is why I love her writing and am already looking forward to her next book!
Flight Behavior by Barbara Kingsolver
Barbara Kingsolver is one of my favorite authors, and here is another beauty by her. This story is about Dellarobia, who in her attempt to escape her dreary life climbs a hill at the rear of her property in anticipation of a tryst and comes upon a world of butterflies nesting in a forest there. This jogs her out of her reverie and she retreats back into her life but her secret of the butterflies is soon revealed. What are they doing there? Why have they chosen this place? This becomes the focal point of many interested parties, including a scientist who opens new doors for Dellarobia and forces her to be honest with herself about her choices and her life.
As usual, Kingsolver creates authentic, endearing characters that glue the reader to the book until the end. The tender relationship that Dellarobia has with her son, Preston, and the strained relationship she has with her mother-in-law, Hester, are complicated and real-life. Her frustration with her husband is palpable, but he is portrayed in a sympathetic light as well. No one is truly bad and everyone has a past that helps explain who they are.
Most importantly, this story is well-researched (as are all her books) and she has a clear purpose in writing this book. The story centers around the Monarch butterfly, which is uprooted from its nesting site in Mexico to an alternate place in the Appalachian mountains because of global warming and climatic change. It draws attention to one example of the devastation of our environment about which man is in denial. The issue is discussed at great length by the characters and a strong message is delivered within these pages. The complicity of the media in promoting the denial is brought to the fore, as well, in some angering but some very entertaining scenes in the book.
What is most impressive about Kingsolver’s writing is that she is not formulaic nor predictable. She chooses important topics and delves into them with such grace and knowledge that she makes an important statement every time. This may be one of her most important ones yet.