Sunday, August 30, 2009

"My Sister's Keeper" by Jodi Picoult

Anna was a designer baby, engineered to be a perfect tissue match for her older sister who is dying from a rare form of leukemia. But when does she get to have her own life? When does she get to say if and when her body can be harvested for parts? What if her sister's needs collide with her own?

Campbell is an expensive lawyer who assumes that any teen girl who wants to hire his services would be better served by Planned Parenthood and really doesn’t want to mess with a thirteen-year-old—especially one whose vocabulary and technical knowledge exceeds some assistants he’s had. He agrees to help her sue her parents for the right to her own body in exchange for polished doorknobs but can he win the case? Does the girl really want him to?

Sara is Anna’s mother who knows more about leukemia, hospitals and edge-of-life living than any mother should. She simply wants her eldest daughter to live and enjoy life for as long as possible. It’s ridiculous to even imagine that the younger one might not.

Brian is Sara’s husband—a firefighter who deals with life and death as part of his job. Is Anna right to sue them? Whose life is more important?

Jesse is the oldest child. He’s been pretty much left to his own devices since he is not needed in the frequent life and death battles that centre around his eldest sister. Instead, he plays with matches, high-speed driving and anything else that will get him noticed—not that it ever helps.

Julia has been appointed Anna’s guardian ad litem to untangle the complexities between she who is suing and they who are being sued as they live under the same roof. How many of Anna’s decisions are hers alone and how many are influenced by her need to please her parents? What are her best interests?

Kate is in desperate need of a kidney. Because of her compromised system, no kidney will work except from Anna. If she doesn’t get it within the week, she will die. The tangle must be unravelled and a decision reached quickly. The need is urgent.

Each character, but Kate, tells his or her part of the story first-person in alternating chapters. The issues and ethics are clearly not straightforward and the separate views are insightful.

Again I thought about my sister Susan and all the medical care she needed after half her face was cooked, crushed between snow and hot manifold when she was two; of all the many visits to the plastic surgeon (I liked Dr. Merkle) and hospital (I wasn’t allowed to visit—rules were stricter then about age of visitors), the times of recovery following.

My response wasn’t to act out like Jesse in My Sister’s Keeper, though I was very jealous of the attention and gifts she got that I didn’t, but to be as good and as perfect as possible. I was thirteen months older than Susan yet many of the parts of her medical journey are lost to my memory. I remember her surgeon, the Punkinhead bear from Eaton’s that she treasured, the slippers with squeeze-so-they-squeak heads bobbing on the top, a photo in my mind of her head swathed in bandages and gauze, the time she began to haemorrhage from her latest surgery that caused Mom to faint. I remember the time I bashed her over the head with a cast iron frying pan because she wasn’t doing the dishes as Mom said and it was my job to make sure she did.

It’s amazing how a novel about someone else can evoke such memories and emotional turmoil. I wish Susan was still living. I’d like to tell her how sorry I am. It’s taken nearly fifty years but I finally get it.

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