Sing You Home
Author: Jodi Picoult
Published by: Atria Books
Reviewed by Mo Bear
Jodi Picoult is an American novelist who I first encountered several years ago with the book My Sister’s Keeper (back about 2005). I was initially intrigued by the title—as the youngest of six children and having three sisters of my own, even though I am the youngest there is one sister in particular who always makes me feel like I am my sister’s keeper—and after reading the synopsis on the back cover, I was drawn in. It’s a provocative piece dealing with a particularly controversial topic (i.e. the notion of “designer babies”)—it’s very well-written and very well-handled. [Side note: it was made into a movie starring Cameron Diaz and Abigail Breslin—do NOT watch the movie. They ruined the story and completely changed the ending. I repeat, do not watch the movie: read the book! The book is amazing. The movie sucks.]
So, I read My Sister’s Keeper, loved it, and went on to read some of her other novels and loved them as well, but I was getting to a point where, although I love her work (I love her style of writing, I love the way that she introduces the reader to certain pieces of information as the story unfolds), I began to notice that her writing had become formulaic to the point where I wasn’t even half-way through the book and I already knew how it was going to end and how it was going to get there; I became bored. I bought and read six of her novels (there are many more available I haven’t gotten to yet) when I decided I wasn’t all that impressed anymore. A friend of mine (also a big JP fan) loaned me number seven, which is the one I am reviewing here: Sing You Home.
I was skeptical about Sing You Home—I read the synopsis and it seemed as if it was going to follow the same formulaic Jodi Picoult path. But the friend who loaned me the novel was adamant about me reading it, so I said OK, I’ll give it a shot—I generally enjoy her work because she is a great storyteller, formulas aside. And I have to say after having read it: it’s not My Sister’s Keeper, but it’s a very close second in the ranking of Jodi Picoult favorites.
In Sing You Home, Picoult takes us through the story of a couple (Zoe and Max) who are married and love each other very much, but are having a very difficult time having children biologically. This, in concert with other difficulties, ultimately breaks their marriage up and they go their own ways; however, their lives are not entirely separate and they are still connected, for various reasons—the big one that is at the center of the subject matter of the story is that there are leftover frozen embryos from past in vitro fertilization (IVF) attempts that they had done when they were still married. The ex-wife would like to use the embryos with her new spouse to try to conceive again, and the ex-husband would like to donate the embryos to his brother and sister-in-law (who are also having trouble conceiving) and thus keep his potential future child/children in the family in an indirect way; a dirty court battle eventually ensues over custody of these embryos.
I highly recommend this novel. Without giving too much away, I will say there were plot twists and turns all over the place. Some things I saw coming, only because I am familiar with the Jodi Picoult formula. But there were several things in there that were really surprising, and for a very long time I really didn’t know how it was going to end. It wasn’t until I was within a few pages of the very ending (right before Jodi lays it all out) that I knew what the ultimate decision was going to be and how it was all going to play out. And that was what I relished most: the surprises and the suspense of not knowing until the very end (reminiscent of My Sister’s Keeper). [Side note: There is apparently also a music accompaniment that is available for free by going to her website (music is an important undercurrent of the story—Zoe is a music therapist), and is supposed to compliment the reading. Full disclosure: I haven’t listened to the soundtrack yet so I have no comment or opinion on how it supplements or enhances the reader’s experience of the story, but my friend who pushed me to read this novel highly recommends having a listen.]
What I really enjoy about Jodi Picoult’s writing, formula or not, is that she tells a hell of a story in a very provocative and intelligent way. And she does a great job of taking controversial topics and presenting them in a way that (A) makes you realize that you have prejudices, not matter how open-minded you are, and (B) puts you in a position to question those prejudices, those ideals, and makes you reflect on that huge gray between right and wrong, and how it’s so easy to make a split-second decision about “yes, that’s right”, or “no, that’s wrong”, but there’s so much gray. It would be too bold for me to say that she makes you question your values, but she certainly makes you ruminate on how firm some of those beliefs should be, and how you perceive (or perhaps should perceive) the other side.