21 March 2011

Sing You Home

Zoe and Max have tried for 10 years to have a Baby. After many rounds of IVF, miscarriages and a particularly devastating stillbirth, Max is done. He leaves Zoe and sinks back into drink, dissolving their marriage.

Heartbroken over losing her husband and her hopes of being a mother, Zoe throws herself into her work as a music therapist. She sings with dying children and elderly Alzheimer's patients. After accepting a request to work with a suicidal teen girl, Zoe finds herself growing closer to the teen's school counselor, Vanessa. Her friendship with Vanessa helps her heal from the wounds left by her husband's flight and gradually blossoms into love.

After Zoe and Vanessa wed, Zoe realizes that although she is too old to successfully submit to IVF again, Vanessa is not. Zoe contacts the clinic where 3 frozen embryos still remain only to learn that she has to get her ex-husband's permission to use them.

Max, however, has Found Jesus and is part of an ultra-conservative Evangelical congregation that abhors "the homosexual lifestyle." Although he does not want the embryos so he can become a father, Max also does not want Zoe to have them so she can raise children in her "deviant" relationship. He sues to gain custody of the embryos, intending to give them to his devout brother and the sister-in-law he secretly loves.

In Sing You Home, Jodi Picoult again addresses a number of timely topics - what does it mean to be gay? Are embryos children or property? What happens when religious conviction asserts itself in the courtroom? What does it mean to be "a family?"

There have been some fairly hostile reviews of this book on Amazon, which I just don't understand. Does the book follow a formula? Yes. As in many of Picoult's previous novels, the story is told in chapters narrated by several key characters. A complex court case addresses controversial ideas.

However, just because Picoult uses similar devices from book to book does not mean they stop working. Having read her other novels that are told by several narrators and involve a courtroom drama did not make this book any less compelling. I was thrilled to get a copy and read it straight through, riveted by the characters and hoping for a positive (fair) outcome.

If I had any criticism of this novel, it may be that while many characters are fully drawn - for example, we come to care deeply for Zoe but can see she is flawed - the "bad guys" are more broadly drawn. Pastor Clive is the cliched self-righteous conservative. Then again, people like him do exist... It may have been nice to round out the characters a little bit by perhaps showing a member or two of the devoutly Christian community in support of Zoe's right to have children. Overall, though, the book is so strong that this is not a dealbreaker.

Another stellar book by Jodi Picoult!

Oh. Almost forgot. This novel comes with a cd of original songs that are meant to enhance the storytelling. I actually have not listened to the disc yet, though I plan to take it in the car with me this morning. The book stands on its own without the music, but may very well be enhanced if you play the songs at the start of each chapter as the author recommends.

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