Review: The Book of Two Ways by Jodi Picoult

by Heather Caliendo
book review the book of two ways - book club chat

Editorial note: I received a copy of The Book of Two Ways in exchange for a review.

The Book of Two Ways by Jodi Picoult is a compelling and unique novel.

Jodi Picoult is one of those constant authors that never fails to bring something new to the table. I actually have not read most of her work—in fact the first story I read by her was A Spark of Life, which was a somber and tough one to read. But my biggest takeaway is that she’s an exceptional writer and she likes to take a genre and make it own.

So when I read the synopsis for The Book of Two Ways—I was instantly fascinated as I know there’s more than meets the eye with her stories. And it’s very apparent in this one. There’s a ton going on in the story, but at the same time, it’s still very human.

First, the synopsis:

Everything changes in a single moment for Dawn Edelstein. She’s on a plane when the flight attendant makes an announcement: Prepare for a crash landing. She braces herself as thoughts flash through her mind. The shocking thing is, the thoughts are not of her husband but of a man she last saw fifteen years ago: Wyatt Armstrong.

Dawn, miraculously, survives the crash, but so do all the doubts that have suddenly been raised. She has led a good life. Back in Boston, there is her husband, Brian, their beloved daughter, and her work as a death doula, in which she helps ease the transition between life and death for her clients.

But somewhere in Egypt is Wyatt Armstrong, who works as an archaeologist unearthing ancient burial sites, a career Dawn once studied for but was forced to abandon when life suddenly intervened. And now, when it seems that fate is offering her second chances, she is not as sure of the choice she once made.

After the crash landing, the airline ensures that the survivors are seen by a doctor, then offers transportation to wherever they want to go. The obvious destination is to fly home, but she could take another path: return to the archaeological site she left years before, reconnect with Wyatt and their unresolved history, and maybe even complete her research on The Book of Two Ways—the first known map of the afterlife.

As the story unfolds, Dawn’s two possible futures unspool side by side, as do the secrets and doubts long buried with them. Dawn must confront the questions she’s never truly asked: What does a life well lived look like? When we leave this earth, what do we leave behind? Do we make choices . . . or do our choices make us? And who would you be if you hadn’t turned out to be the person you are right now?

Two choices

The story starts off with Dawn’s plane about to crash. I want to pause right there a minute and ask, why so many stories about plane crashes in 2020 (keeping in mind these are all written pre-pandemic)? We had Dear Edward that is well-written but the plane crash is super disturbing. And there’s also a plane crash in The Last Flight. Prior to the pandemic, I flew quite a bit for work and any plane crash story really freaks me out. I think about all those random flights I took from PHX to the East Coast not expecting anything to happen. So I don’t love the new trend of plane crashes—too unnerving! And I’m already cringing thinking about all the fiction that will be written about COVID.

Okay, now that is out of the way—so after Dawn survives the crash she has a choice to either return back home to her husband and daughter or go to Egypt to her research and a long ago love, Wyatt. The story is then told in two different timelines—one where Dawn is home and the other where she goes to Egypt.

I thought this was a clever concept. I’m sure everyone at some point as recognized when they made a pivotal choice in their life. But what if you had an opportunity to see what could have been? Would you be intrigued or continue on your same path? Very interesting concept.

Egypt

I was much more engaged with her Egypt storyline and reunion with Wyatt. I didn’t expect there to be so much detail about Egyptology—in many ways, parts of this reads as a nonfiction story documenting Egyptian history. I peeked at some reviews after I finished the book and saw that the amount of text dedicated to this area was a bit much for some people. I thought it was interesting and I did learn some new information but it does drag a bit in places, especially where you wondering where she stands with Wyatt and what really happened in their past. I think it could have been cut down a bit.

That said, I did feel like I was transported to Egypt with Dawn. The amount of detail that Jodi wrote was quite remarkable. It’s been a long time since a book felt truly transformative. Again, I just thought the history portions got a little repetative.

Home life

Dawn works as a death doula, which I never heard about before. Combining with her love of Egyptian history, there’s this central theme of death in the story. So yeah, that’s pretty heavy! Her work as a death doula is not as engaging to me as her Egyptian work. She definitely explained quite a bit about why that area is important and what the role actually does—really see the human side but also practical aspects of someone about to pass. But it also is intense. Maybe too much so at points.

So this leads me to Dawn’s relationship with her husband Brian. It’s your pretty typical suburban/comfortable relationship. They do have issues and I was a little perplexed by it at first but it all eventually gets revealed and makes sense.

Verdict

Okay, so for book clubs—this is a good read for you. I can’t list all the reasons without going into spoilers but I will say the ending alone will have all of you talking. There’s a ton to discuss with this one and so it won’t be a 10 minute talk and then you’re done. This book is a bit of departure from her ones that focus on social issues as this really narrows in on relationships and choices. While I think it could have used a final edit, I still enjoyed it overall. Check out my book club questions here.

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