My Sister’s Keeper

1 05 2008

My Sister’s Keeper

By Jodi Picoult


The novel tells the story of a young girl, named Anna Fitzgerald, who wishes to obtain medical emancipation from her parents.  Anna was born as Rhode Island’s first ever “designer baby” after her older sister, Kate, was diagnosed with acute promyelocytic leukemia at a very young age.  Kate’s older brother, Jesse, was not a perfect match for organ donations for Kate, which led to her mother’s idea of having another child who could be a guaranteed donor match.  Since birth, where Anna’s chord blood was used for Kate’s treatment, Anna has been donating marrow, blood, organs and whatever other body parts have been deemed necessary for Kate’s treatment.  Kate has grown accustomed to her disease, using her impending death as both a threat and a joke for her family, seemingly immune to the pain that she causes her sister.  The family has been so preoccupied with Kate’s illness, that they do not notice when Jesse becomes an arsonist, burning down structures such as abandoned buildings.  Also, Anna’s parents have been so disconnected from their youngest daughter that they are completely surprised when they receive Anna’s petition for medical emancipation.

The complex entity that is Anna’s family includes her mother, Sara, her father, Brian and then her older brother and sister, Jesse and Kate.  Not only does this novel share Anna’s perspective, but also those of her family and others involved in her trial, such as Campbell Alexander, her lawyer, and Julia Romano, who has been appointed as Anna’s guardian ad litem.  The many angles at which this one situation is viewed provides the reader with an array of evidence to support their own opinions concerning Anna and Kate’s lives as they are followed throughout the course of the novel.


I am incredibly impressed by Picoult’s personal and detailed writing.  As a person who is eager to find the faults in many novels, I have been silenced by this story’s quality and importance.  While reading the novel, I strongly identified with more than one of the characters, even if they had opposing views.  Although I would disagree with the medical choices made on Anna’s behalf, I understand the motives behind them and the conditions underwhich they were made.  I loved the variety of stories that were being woven together; there was the love story between Campbell and Julia, the sisterly bond which Kate and Anna shared, Jesse’s many attempts at arson, and a parents’ struggle to prolong their daughter’s life.

Before reading the novel, I had the opinion that if my sister needed an organ, I would happily and eagerly donate whatever she needed, and that it would be selfish for anyone to not use their own life in a desperate attempt to save another.  What I hadn’t considered was that I was able to make that choice and develop my opinion without being forced into surgery for someone else’s benefit.  The main difference between my decision and Anna’s was just that; I would have made the decision to donate, but in her case, Anna was given no choice.  She was aware that she was only given life in order to prolong the life of another.

I have been thoroughly impressed by Picoult’s ability to create doubt in any reader’s mind, and for that, I would recommend this fabulous book to anyone in need of an intense, in depth look into their own prejudices and beliefs.

Why is this book “dangerous?”:

This novel can be considered harmful for a variety of reasons, but the most important element to its controversy is that it makes the reader question accepted ideas in society.  Picoult raises the question of whether the medical community’s obligation to protect and save lives at any cost is always ethical.  It seems that the new medical advancements are coming too quickly for our minds to handle.  This novel directly argues whether it is ethical to use one life in order to save another.  Anna is alive for the pure reason of providing life for her sister; she is not given the choice of donating to Kate, but instead is forced to do so by her own family, in particular, her mother.

Is one life more valuable than another?  When does donation of organs, blood, cells and marrow become torture instead of medical protocol?  How does one know when to stop in their attempt to save another life?  These are just a few of the questions that this novel forces the reader to consider.  This book challenges the central idea of the medical community: to save life at any cost.  Instead of merely arguing from a medical stand point, it also threatens the ideal of parents always having their child’s best interest at heart, in particular, while making their child’s medical decisions.  Who has the right to sacrifice one child’s life for another? Does a mother? The reader is left contemplating these questions, a result that is considered dangerous by many.




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