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Monday, March 7, 2011

Jodi Picoult's Sing You Home

Sing You Home by Jodi Picoult
Published by Atria Books ISBN 978-1-4391-0272-5
Hardcover, $28

Jodi Picoult writes books that pair characters you care about with controversial plots. She takes on issues that can be polarizing, and makes the reader see the point of view of all sides. In this world of angry political rhetoric and screaming talking heads on cable news shows, she is refreshing and empathetic.

Her new book, Sing You Home, tackles two issues- gay rights and embryonic custody rights. Max and Zoe are married and have been trying to have a baby for nine years. When Zoe finally gets pregnant, only to miscarry, Max decides he can't go through it anymore and leaves.

Zoe is devastated. She cannot seem to function, until she becomes friends with Vanessa, a high school school guidance counselor. Vanessa is described as 
"the person who buys the broken piece of furniture, sure I can repair it. I used to have a rescued greyhound. I am a pathological fixer, which accounts for my career as a school counselor, since God knows it's not about the  money or job satisfaction. So it's not really a surprise to me that my immediate instinct, with Zoe Baxter, is to put her back together again."
Vanessa and Zoe become best friends, but both of them are surprised when it becomes more. Vanessa is gay, and she and Zoe fall in love. Vanessa has always known she was gay, and the description of her life, living in fear of others finding out and the torment she faced as a teen, is hard to read. 

Zoe, however, was married to Max, and so even Zoe's quirky, New-Agey mom Dara is a little shocked by their relationship. I loved Dara; she is the mom everyone would want, but Picoult does not make her perfect, which I liked. Zoe decides that love is love, you can't help with whom you fall in love.

When Zoe and Max divorced, they still had three fertilized eggs left from their IVF treatments. Zoe and Vanessa want to use the eggs so that Vanessa can become impregnated and give birth. The clinic tells Zoe that Max must give his permission, and Zoe has no qualms about asking Max to sign the paperwork; after all, he left because he decided he didn't want to have a baby.

But Max has been living with his brother and sister-in-law who took him in after the divorce. They too have been having fertility issues. When Max talks to the pastor at their fundamentalist Christian church, he tells Max that gay people should not raise children. He convinces Max to fight for custody of the embryos, and to give them to his brother and sister-in-law.

The court battle takes up much of the novel, and it moves at a breakneck pace. This book, as most of Picoult's novels are, is a real page-turner. Set aside enough time to read it in one sitting, you won't want to put it down. Picoult tells the story in alternating first-person narrative by Zoe, Vanessa and Max, so you get to see all sides of this heartbreaking story. 

There are also so many twists and turns in the novel, you could get whiplash. There is so much packed into this book, and although the pastor at first glance seems like a kind, compassionate man committed to his beliefs, by the book's end, his true colors show. It's unfortunate that was the case, it may have made for a more interesting choice if he were a truly moral man. With the recent Supreme Court decision on the right of Westboro Church to protest at soldier's funerals, this storyline is even more timely.

Zoe is a music therapist, and Picoult includes a a CD performed by Ellen Wilber, who co-wrote the songs with Picoult. The songs correspond with the chapters, and it makes for a unique way for this book to stand out. Picoult continues her winning ways, and her fans will not be disappointed.

Rating 4 of 5 stars

Jodi Picoult will be speaking at the Atria Books Literary Salon-Series Monday, March 7th at 7pm. You can watch a  LiveStream right here on my website:

Watch live streaming video from atria at livestream.com
Watch live streaming video from atria at livestream.com

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