Review: A Spark of Light by Jodi Picoult

by Heather Caliendo

A Spark of Light by Jodi Picoult is a vivid story about sacrifice, pain and love. While she’s a master at crafting stories, this is not an easy read but it’s an important one. Don’t let this one pass you by.

Picoult is known for taking topics from the headlines and turning them into thoughtful, fiction novels. A Spark of Light tackles an important subject: women’s reproductive rights and examines it from very different perspectives. The story is about a gunman who bursts into a women’s reproductive health services clinic—opening fire and taking all inside hostage. Hugh McElroy, a police hostage negotiator, sets up a perimeter and begins making a plan to communicate with the gunman. As his phone vibrates with incoming text messages he glances at it and, to his horror, finds out that his fifteen-year-old daughter, Wren, is inside the clinic.

But Wren is not alone. She will share the next and tensest few hours of her young life with a cast of unforgettable characters: A nurse who calms her own panic in order to save the life of a wounded woman. A doctor who does his work not in spite of his faith but because of it, and who will find that faith tested as never before. A pro-life protester, disguised as a patient, who now stands in the crosshairs of the same rage she herself has felt. A young woman who has come to terminate her pregnancy. And the disturbed individual himself, vowing to be heard. For more about the synopsis, click here.

Unique narrative structure

The story is told backwards through the hours of the standoff. By tracking its way back in this format, we already know much that happens right away. But this narrative structure does well for this kind of story because of the fact we know much that will happen but we don’t know how and we also slowly learn why all the people came to the facility that day and it’s not always what you’ll expect. Many times with thriller type stories, it encourages you to read the book as quickly as possible to find out the ending. But having an idea where the story goes, keeping in mind there are still surprises even at the last page, forces the reader to truly focus on each character and their motivations. This is probably one of the hardest narrative styles to pull off and Jodi does a fantastic job at it, making this read a different type of page-turner.

Both sides of debate

I’ve read people wonder or even complain that Jodi’s book has a political agenda. I went to her book signing event in Phoenix and she did not shy away from where she stands on the abortion debate. But she took it upon herself to make sure and to speak with people on both sides of the debate. She described in vivid detail having to talk with people who are pro-life advocates. She says they were not religious zealots; they were men and women whose conversation she enjoyed and speaking from a place of personal conviction.

She also interviewed 151 women who had terminated a pregnancy. She said of those women, only one regretted her decision. The majority thought about the abortion daily. A key line she writes:

Laws are black and white. The lives of women are a thousand shades of gray. 

While she says that she does not believe we, as a society,  will ever agree on the issue, the first step is to talk to each and to listen.

I highly recommend you read her entire author’s note at the end of the novel where she discusses the violence commitment by anti-abortion protesters, her research process and more.

A Spark of Light is a great book club novel as there’s so much to discuss and analyze. Just make sure your group considers the sensitive nature of the story and keeps the conversation respectful.

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