There is a reason why Jodi Picoult is a favorite author of mine and this book worked to win me over even more. Picoult has written another provocative, timely novel that sparked a fire in me. I feel like I could write a ten page paper on the novel. I want to. The reason I love Picoult’s work is because she goes above and beyond to make sure people hear exactly what she has to say. She conducts extensive research on each topic she writes about and because of that, her words reach far beyond being simply entertaining. Yes, she may write fiction. But this story is not fictitious at all.
The story begins at the Center – a women’s reproductive health services clinic – a morning like any other, when a distraught gunman comes in and opens fire, taking everyone inside hostage. When the police hostage negotiator gets to the scene, he finds out his teenage daughter is one of the people being held inside.
A Spark of Light is a powerful story that delves into the sensitive subject of women’s reproductive rights from a multi-narrative perspective, illuminating different elements of the plot and giving voice to both pro-choice and pro-life narratives. The account of this day is shared by a number of different characters; Wren, the daughter of the police officer, the aunt who brought her to the clinic, the young girls father, a pregnant nurse, the Christian doctor who performs abortions at the Center, a pro-lifer disguised as a patient, the gunman himself, and more. Told in this gripping narrative structure that begins with the shooting and counts backwards through the hours leading up to the shooting, are the backstories of what brought each person to the Center that day, revealing connections and similarities between those who, on the surface, appear to be unlike each other in every way.
Jodi Picoult interviewed people who identify on both sides of the spectrum for this novel; from women who have had abortions and women who say they are pro-choice but who would never have abortions themselves, to individuals that belong to groups who protest abortions, but who also protest contraceptives, to those who are confident that the rights of the unborn should come before the rights of adult women. By undertaking all of this investigative work, she was able to tell the story impartially from every angle so that her own voice did not filter through and saturate the characters she created with her own convictions.
The method in which Picoult chose to tell this story is a statement in and of itself; a tool to trigger self-reflection (at least, that’s how I see it). As readers, we are hit with the tragedy from page one. There are no previous character introductions or chance for personal opinions or feelings to be developed that may influence how we see the situation. All we know is that people are dead, people are being held hostage, and that there is good versus evil. This is not unlike the way we consume breaking news stories in real life. You know the ones that are in another province or another state, that leave us feeling outraged and angry, but fail to give us any deeper knowledge of the situation other than the number of deceased? The ones that we stop thinking about after the “sending thoughts and prayers” tweets subside? Picoult starts introducing each personality, each quirk, the things that make them laugh and the things that weigh them down after we have already made up our mind about them. She shows us the decisions that ultimately lead to that moment, the values and beliefs that shaped their ideologies enough to influence their actions to that degree. She transforms them from just another disconnected tragedy we read about, into humans with thoughts and lives and relationships just like us. She makes us question what we assumed to be the truth.
What I found so unique about A Spark of Light is that Picoult isn’t trying to persuade readers to any particular point of view. She isn’t trying to make readers choose one side or the other and take a stance. Rather, she presents valid perspectives and facts from all sides. Now, this isn’t to say that after reading this my own personal beliefs faltered in any way just because I allowed myself to hear what other people had to say. In fact, if anything, I am stronger rooted in my own values because of all that I learned from the novel. What I did take this away from the book is this: every single person is going to have their own opinion and their own convictions that support their position. This is unavoidable, and the truth is, there will never be a consensus on this topic. Or any issue, for that matter. People on both sides feel too strongly about it, and more than that, are entitled to feel how they feel. What this book taught me, through narrative, style of writing, and the voices I heard, is that we may not agree, but we need to listen. The culture of outrage that we live in, the way we accuse and condemn and judge, does nothing but further polarize us, which opens the door to violence and all of the chilling statistics that Picoult shares in the epilogue.
We will never be able to control how other people think or what they feel. All we can be in charge of is ourselves; how we relate to one another, how we choose to deal with our differences and how we treat people because of them – especially on sensitive matters such as women’s reproductive rights.
If you want to open yourself up to feel challenged but not threatened, and decide you want to start listening, I recommend picking up A Spark of Light and letting Picoult educate you.
Reviewed by: Christy (Contributor)
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