THE BOOKS YOU SHOULD BE READING #1: A SPARK OF LIGHT BY JODI PICOULT
Welcome to my new series on the blog: The Books You Should Be Reading. I have always been a self-confessed book worm and one of those people who can’t go more than a month without reading a book (you should see my personal library—my goal is to have a whole entire wall of books in my house (when I actually have one)). I’m already on my third book for this year (and we’re only a month in, so I’m doing real good), and I decided that since I read so much, I should share with you guys the books that have had a lasting impact on me and I think everyone should be reading.
I will warn you guys that I’m big on thriller novels, so there will probably be a lot of those, but I’ve been trying to mix up my genres recently (I’m currently reading a non-fiction about how we can improve our economy, but I think you could still count that as a thriller LOL).
The first book I’m going to share with you guys is A Spark of Light by Jodi Picoult. I’ve been a fan of Jodi Picoult’s writing for as long as I can remember. The first time I read one of her books (although I can’t remember exactly which one) was in high school. “My Sister’s Keeper,” the movie based on Picoult’s book of the same name, came out my freshman year. I know that wasn’t the first book of hers that I read, but I think hearing others talk about her writing made me want to go to the library (ok was actually probably Barnes & Noble) and pick up one of her books.
Regardless of which one I actually read first, I was quickly entranced with her writing style: quick, sharp, thought-provoking, and like putting together a puzzle—small bits coming in with each chapter (often from different character’s perspectives) like putting pieces together, but you can’t see the full picture until you put the last one in (and it’s often not what you expected it to look like). Her books always are filled with unending anticipation and plot twists that you never saw coming. A Spark of Light was no different.
A Spark of Light takes place in rural Mississippi, where a gunman actively fires and then takes hostages at a women’s clinic, the sole remaining women’s reproductive clinic in the state (NOTE: this is not a book about gun control even though there is an active shooting involved in the plot). Hugh McElroy, a hostage negotiator, rushes to the scene, and upon arrival discovers that his daughter and sister are inside, and with them a cast of unforgettable characters: a pregnant nurse who rushes to everyone’s aid; a doctor who does his work because of his faith, not in spite of it; a pro-life protestor disguised as a patient; and a young woman who has come to the Center to terminate her pregnancy.
Here’s why you should read this book:
THE SHORT VERSION
A Spark of Light discusses one of America’s biggest hot-button issues (abortion) in a new and refreshing way that brings together compelling arguments from opposing viewpoints. Its story structure reveals important character details layer by layer, which keeps you on your toes for the whole book, and its characters are diverse in beliefs and backgrounds that will both enrage and excite you. Ultimately, this is a book that will make you really think about what you believe and why you believe it.
THE LONG VERSION
In every one of Picoult’s books I’ve read so far, I’ve never (NEVER) been able to see one of her classic plot twists coming (yes, she is that good & if you’ve read one of her other books you know how amazing she is at it). However, with A Spark of Light, I saw one of the biggest plot twists coming from miles away (don’t worry, no spoilers here), but there still was one that took me for a loop. Even so, Picoult’s writing captured me from the very first page.
The narrative structure of the novel, which I think is what makes this story so effective, tells the story backwards, starting at the end of the standoff with the gunman, tracing back to what brought each person to the Center that day. With each back-counted hour, we unravel details and backstories about each character not only from how they interact with each other and the gunman but from flashbacks that reveal their deepest hidden secrets and thoughts that ultimately explain their decision to come to the Center. And some of them will surprise you. These characters are way more complex than they seem at first inspection, and their thoughts and experiences are proof why abortion is not an issue that’s clearly black and white.
One of my favorite things about Picoult’s books is that they cover controversial issues and sensitive topics (her others have covered racism in today’s America, gun control, rape, abuse, suicide, and much much more), and they do so in a way that includes more than one viewpoint and incites discussion.
The topic of focus for this book, as mentioned before, is abortion. This is probably one of the most culturally-relevant topics that Picoult could write about. As women have pushed to make strives for gender equality, in particular over the past year or two with the rise of the #MeToo and Time’s Up movements, the rights over various aspects of women’s lives (like abortion and equal pay) have become highly debated topics (because when there are people who push for something, especially equality, there will be people who push back).
During his presidential campaign in 2016, President Trump said Roe v. Wadewould be overturned if he got to change the balance on the Supreme Court, which he was able to do with the swearing in of Justice Kavanaugh (and so the future of what will happen to Roe v. Wade remains unclear).
And on the 46thanniversary of the passing of Roe v. Wade, just seven days ago, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo signed into effect New York’s Reproductive Health Act, a landmark new law that has sparked some outrage. This law preserves access to abortions, but it also removes abortion from the state’s criminal code (protecting medical professionals and doctors who perform abortions from criminal prosecution); allows medical professionals who are not doctors to perform abortions in New York (like midwives and physicians assistants); and addresses late-term abortions, allowing them to be performed after 24 weeks if the fetus is not viable or when necessary to protect the life of the mother (by far the most controversial part of the new law).
I’m not going to go into my beliefs about abortion on here (as that is not what this post is about), but I do believe that readers should be provided with context on how the discussion this book sparks fits into today’s conversation.
One of my favorite lines from the book (there were many) comes from Dr. Ward, the doctor providing abortions in the Center: “Your religion should help you make the decision if you find yourself in that situation, but the policy should exist for you to have the right to make it in the first place. When you say you can’t do something because your religion forbids it, that’s a good thing. When you say Ican’t do something because yourreligion forbids it, that’s a problem.” The other, comes from the gunman: “We are all drowning slowly in the tide of our opinions, oblivious that we are taking on water every time we open our mouths.”
Here are my thoughts on these two quotes: 1. If more people thought like Dr. Ward, we would not be so clearly (and harshly) divided by these issues (not just abortion), and we would be more likely to work together to find a compromise/solution. 2. This quote from the gunman exemplifies that we as a society (and especially the U.S. as a nation) are so quick to open our mouths about controversial issues because we believe we are right, when often we do not have all the facts or are not taking into consideration the circumstances, stories, feelings, LIVES of the people we are talking about. Everyone is entitled to their own opinion, but it is just that: YOUR opinion. Facts, rights, and statistics are what really need to be taken into consideration. 3. The fact that my favorite quotes from this book come from characters who are quite different in their viewpoints and backgrounds (and can be argued are “good” vs. “bad” characters) proves how complex human beings are. Everyone has redeemable qualities. Everyone has their own opinion and deserves it to be heard.
Regardless of your stances on abortion, I think this book is a must-read. We as a society tend to push topics that make us uncomfortable on the backburner (and I think it’s sad that topics such as abortion are still taboo). It doesn’t matter if these things make us uncomfortable, they are still happening. And not acknowledging them isn’t going to keep them from happening. This book acknowledges abortion for what it is (it is in fact a medical procedure first and foremost); the many, many reasons why people seek them; and the effects that they can have on a person afterwards (physical and psychological). These are things that can be uncomfortable to read about. But these are things that NEED to be read