Genre: Chick Lit, Morality
Narrative Style: Third Person chapters alternating with first person
Synopsis: A dead baby is found in a barn on an Amish farm. At first, none of the women will even admit to being pregnant. And then there is the mystery of how the baby died. Ellie Hathaway is the streetwise attorney who becomes far too involved in her client’s life.
I picked this up because I wanted something that would be easy to read while I was marking exams, something that would help me switch off at the end of a day of reading accounts that can’t decide what tense to be in. I certainly didn’t want to be struggling through some heavy piece of literary fiction. This had belonged to my mother (for all you wondering why I would even have a Jodi Picout book on my shelves) and when she died at the start of the year, it made its way onto my shelf. I was also curious. A few years ago I was loaned Change of Heart by a Picoult nut and while I thought it was okay, I wasn’t overwhelmed. I wanted to give her another try.
I must admit that the storyline drew me in quite quickly. Once it became apparent that the eldest daughter of the household, Katie, was the baby’s mother and that she denied giving birth, never mind killing the baby, then my interest was piqued. Picoult had also clearly researched her subject matter thoroughly as the picture given of Amish life was full of detail and seemed (to me anyway) realistic. I was ready to say I was wrong and that this was a very good book.
However, as I read on, things started to jar for me. The first thing was the mention of the ghost of Katie’s little sister. Which was fine when it seemed it was a figment of Katie’s imagination but it soon became apparent that not only could other people see this ghost but Picoult herself seemed to believe in its existence. I find this sort of spirituality quite troubling and it didn’t seem to fit with Katie’s character at all. It did mean, however, that there could be an utterly sickeningly corny image at the end of the book which I personally found completely unnecessary.
Picoult described the Amish as a group of people that lived for the community and the good of the group and who frowned on individuality. And there are some obvious advantages to this way of thinking but also disadvantages. In the novel, two characters have been shunned and had to leave because of decisions that they made and this is given as a possible motivation for the murder of the baby – and indeed, in a round about way, it does have to do with the baby’s death. Some of the difficulties this leads to are described in the beginning. However, by the end of the novel, through the decisions that Katie makes, Picoult seems to be privileging this form of living, as Katie decides to return to the fold, rather than follow her own heart. It may be that I find it too hard to fit in with any groups to be able to understand this sort of thinking but it does seem that at the start of the novel, this way of thinking is criticized but by the end, it is seen as some sort of salvation.
This is also shown in the character development of Ellie which I also found a little unsatisfying. At the beginning, she was a hard bitten attorney who liked to win so much that she had just managed to get a sex offender, she knew was guilty, off scot free. She ends up living with Katie as part of her bail conditions and as a result, begins to understand the faults in her own character. While it is apparent that Ellie had faults to understand, it all seems very easy for her and, in my mind, she doesn’t struggle enough psychologically for her change for the better to ring true.
At the end of the day, I have given this 3/5 because I did want to keep reading and I did feel sympathy for Katie but ultimately it didn’t work for me.