Burgs Sunday book review
Reviewed by Jennifer Poff Cooper of Christiansburg. She is currently a graduate student at Hollins University.
Jodi Picoult novels have come to be synonymous with ethical dilemmas, timely topics, and family drama. Her latest, “Sing You Home,” does not disappoint in these areas. However, it lacks some of the pizzazz of her earlier novels, while at the same time overreaching in its scope.
The protagonist is Zoe, a 40ish music therapist at the end of her rope from multiple in vitro fertilization failures. Her husband, Max, cannot take the stress of the fertility problems anymore and divorces Zoe. On the rebound Zoe meets a new friend, Vanessa, and subsequently falls in love with her. They begin a life together and marry in the state of Massachusetts, where gay marriage is legal (it is not in their home state of Rhode Island). Meanwhile, the alcoholic Max falls back into bad habits and ends up crashing on the couch of his “golden boy” brother, Reid, and Reid’s wife, Liddy, who coincidentally also cannot conceive children. Reid and Liddy bring Max into their evangelical church where Max finds religion. In short, the two divorcées could not have gone in more different directions after their split.
The plot begins to boil when Vanessa and Zoe, who still wants a child, realize that there are embryos from Zoe’s in vitro fertilization attempts frozen at the fertility clinic. The trick is, they must get the biological father’s approval to use them. Max’s church frowns on gay marriage and disposing of ‘pre-born children,’ and it convinces the aimless Max to put up a fight for custody of the embryos – a fight complete with caricatures of an evangelical minister and a publicity-seeking right-wing lawyer. The courtroom drama occupies the remainder of the book.
As usual, Picoult has done her homework. She describes the in vitro fertilization in just enough detail to satisfy the reader without becoming too technical. In the courtroom scenes, her lawyers know case law relating to embryos being considered property versus ‘pre-born children.’ In addition, Picoult enlightens readers about the field of music therapy by describing what a musical therapist does and does not do. Since it is a relatively new area of social science, Picoult’s shared knowledge may be eye opening to many in the audience. The music theme also gives nice structure to the book.
However, Picoult falls down on the job at times. Gay marriage and the concept of when life begins are huge hot-button issues, and the book falters under the weight of them both. Known to be a gay rights activist since her son is gay, Picoult’s political leanings also tilt the scales. They reveal themselves too much to allow readers to think through the issues on their own.
Also, it is difficult to distinguish the voices of the two women, Zoe and Vanessa. Too many pithy sayings populate the book, instead of Picoult’s typical insightful writing. Picoult nicely weaves together the music therapy storyline with the main plot, but there are a couple of plot threads that are left hanging or are simply underdeveloped. While “Sing You Home” proved an interesting read, especially as the plot moved more quickly toward the end, the story was wrapped up too neatly for fans of Picoult’s typical emotionally wrenching and often shocking books.
For a first Picoult novel, I would recommend an earlier work such as “My Sister’s Keeper” or “Nineteen Minutes,” or Picoult’s personal favorite, “Second Glance,” to give readers a truer taste of her style and abilities.
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