A Spark of Lightby Jodi Picoult Published 02 Oct 2018
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The warm fall day starts like any other at the Center—a women’s reproductive health services clinic—its staff offering care to anyone who passes through its doors. Then, in late morning, a desperate and distraught gunman bursts in and opens fire, taking all inside hostage.
After rushing to the scene, 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 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 cross hairs 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.
Told in a daring and enthralling narrative structure that counts backward through the hours of the standoff, this is a story that traces its way back to what brought each of these very different individuals to the same place on this fateful day.
Jodi Picoult—one of the most fearless writers of our time—tackles a complicated issue in this gripping and nuanced novel. How do we balance the rights of pregnant women with the rights of the unborn they carry? What does it mean to be a good parent? A Spark of Light will inspire debate, conversation . . . and, hopefully, understanding.
"A Spark of Light" Reviews
She wondered if the only way any of us can find what we stand for is by first locating what we stand against.
I got a really pleasant surprise a couple of years ago when I picked up Small Great Things on a whim and discovered that Picoult is actually much more vicious and hard-hitting than I'd expected. Her covers look like chick-lit, but it seems she takes very current, often controversial, topics and examines them through the eyes of complex and relatable characters.
However, I think this book doesn't quite hit the emotions it's aiming for. The novel is so focused on the issue and providing lots of information that it often becomes a dry and dispassionate read. At times, A Spark of Light reads almost like an "Abortion Myths Dispelled" pamphlet. I still want to give it three stars for what I'm tempted to call an important or even necessary read, but I don't think it dives much deeper than the surface.
Picoult tells the story of a gunman barging into Missisippi's only abortion clinic and taking the doctors and patients hostage. We soon discover that the shooter is a man called George whose daughter recently had an abortion. The story takes place over a single day and is told in reverse, moving through the perspectives of many characters who all have different circumstances and agendas.
Picoult's characters are quick to point out inaccuracies in the arguments of anti-choice protestors but, overall, the perspectives are relatively balanced. There are no monsters on either side and the author carefully explores why each individual believes what they believe.
Dr. Louie Ward (based on real-life abortion provider, Dr. Willie Parker) is a Christian who offers abortions because he believes it is his religious duty to offer compassion instead of judgement to women; Joy is at the clinic because she just had an abortion; young Wren is seeking contraception; Janine is an anti-abortion activist who is there to infiltrate the clinic. This is just a sample of the characters. Outside, the hostage negotiator in charge is Wren's dad, and elsewhere a girl called Beth faces murder charges for illegally terminating her own pregnancy. The characters are diverse in race, wealth, and sexuality.
Lots of viewpoints are covered, as are the laws that make Mississippi the most restrictive state on abortion. The dialogue and internal monologues of the characters feel somewhat didactic, though perhaps that was unavoidable. Many conversations exist to educate the reader on the realities, laws and myths of abortion, and honestly it feels like it. Though the characters' situations all seem likely to evoke sympathy, the book itself is too lesson-driven to offer much in the way of emotional attachment.
The unusual timeline of the novel also didn't really work for me. I'm not sure I understand it's purpose. By beginning at the end, we know most of what will happen, and the few details intended to surprise us are not actually that surprising.
It's undeniably an informative and well-researched book on a hot topic, going so far as to consider the relationship between abortion politics and race politics. It's unfortunate that, though interesting, the book seemed to hold me at a distance from the characters-- perhaps the author's decision to try to equally portray such opposing viewpoints made it impossible to ever really get close to either one.
If you do read the book, be sure to read the author's note. Some of the best conclusions on the abortion argument are in it.
CW: Racism; abortion; gun violence; mentions of rape and incest.
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Author Jodi Picoult is no stranger to controversy, and it seems somehow fitting that she should tackle the contentious issue of a woman's right to abortion in this, her latest offering. Set in a women's reproductive health services clinic, now becoming a rare commodity, the story kick starts with a bang with a desperate gunman shooting at those within the clinic and holding them hostage. The narrative then proceeds to go back in time to the start of the day for the wide cast of characters present and the multiple reasons for their presence at the clinic. This includes clinic staff, pro life people, the desperate gunman's tale, and clinic clients. Outside, Hugh McElroy is the police hostage negotiator, alarmed to discover his 15 year old daughter, Wren, is inside the clinic with her aunt, his sister.
Picoult takes an incredibly balanced approach, showcasing her impressive research skills on this incendiary topic of reproductive rights. She presents the science, the legal, religious, cultural norms, state differences, national and international angles, not to mention the issue of race, making this a novel that is thought provoking and prime material for book club discussions. She captures the intensity of the feelings people have on the topic, both pro life and those who uphold a woman's right to choose, exposing the misinformation peddled in the arguments. This is a story with plenty of tension and suspense, and the unexpected, which I found both gripping and timely, given what is happening in the world today. As such, this is a novel that I recommend highly. Many thanks to Hodder and Stoughton for an ARC.
I tried to like this book, I really did, but I found it to be preachy and boring as batshit. I kept finding excuses to put it down and not get back to it, which is unlike me. The reverse chronology of the chapters I found to be disjointed and annoying, and because of this I couldn't connect with any of the characters. And a graphic abortion scene? I mean really? Does anybody need to read that? I know this is Jodi Picoult and it will probably be a mega seller, but it just didn't do it for me.
My thanks to Allen & Unwin for an uncorrected proof to read and review. The opinions are entirely my own.
4.5 Brilliant and Harrowing Stars* (rounded up)
With “A Spark of Light” Jodi Picoult does it again! This time however, the path she takes to get to the finish line is a little different.
As we all know, Jodi Picoult is no stranger to controversy. Nor does she shy away from topics that others would never conceive of. One of her many talents lies in her ability to remain neutral while weaving stories about the most contentious of subjects. This is one of those times.
In “A Spark of Light,” several women find themselves in a bad situation. They are either there by choice or by need. The end result however, is the same. A gunman has arrived at “The Center” (a women’s reproductive health clinic), and he has a bone to pick.
Hugh is the hostage negotiator and he is trying to calm George Godfrey, the gunman down, while also trying to keep it together himself. Why, you ask? Both Hugh’s teenage daughter, Wren and his sister Bex, are inside and he doesn’t know why. Will it become a choice they live to regret?
Janine is a Pro-Lifer. Whatever her reasons were for going to the clinic got thrown out the window when Joy, a woman who just had an abortion, needed help. Can Janine and Joy put their views aside and help each other during this trying time?
Dr. Ward is the Clinic OB-GYN. He is also a Pro-Lifer, who has made it his life’s work to help women get abortions safely, when the alternative is unthinkable. Now it is his life that hangs in the balance.
Izzy is a nurse at the Clinic. She is doing her best to calm everyone down in the face extreme danger.
Beth is underage. In Mississippi, having an abortion under the age of Eighteen without the consent of a parent or a legal guardian is Illegal. Beth had a choice to make and now she is paying the ultimate price.
“A Spark of Light” is one of Jodi Picoult's most challenging and controversial books to date. Abortion is a very hot topic in the United States. You can’t turn on the news, flip open a newspaper or search the internet without the topic cropping up. Everyone I know feels passionately about this subject, I know I do. That said, in this book, Jodi Picoult does a brilliant job of keeping her thoughts neutral, making it such that you feel for each person and each party (whether it’s Pro-Life or Pro-Choice) and have more compassion for everyone involved and that is one heck of a feat. Ms. Picoult accomplished the same achievement in one of my favorite novels of hers, “Small Great Things” and that speaks volumes.
“A Spark of Light” was told by multiple points of view, in reverse chronological order, starting with 6 p.m. and working backwards to 5 p.m., then 4. p.m., and 3 p.m.,.. all the way back to 8 a.m. Personally, I felt that this created a different type of tension for each of the characters versus other novels. I didn’t know how they ended up that in that time or place or what their individual situation was. Going back in time left me more curious, scared and wondering, heart beating faster, teeth chattering. Wren, Hugh, Joy and Beth!! These are characters in whom I became fully invested. Simply put, my heart ached each time theirs did.
Certain moments, were expected and then BOOM! Eyes wide.. HEART freaking BURSTING out of my chest. Jodi Picoult got me. Again. To say I loved this is an understatement. It was powerful, breathtaking, brilliant. This is a novel which I highly recommend, for the skillful writing, the way in which Ms. Picoult is able to write about challenging subjects without taking a side and for the brilliant characters whose hearts beat in tune with mine.
A huge thank you to NetGalley, Random House Publishing Group - Ballantine and Jodi Picoult for an ARC of this novel in exchange for an honest review.
Published on NetGalley, Goodreads, Amazon and Twitter on 10.14.18.
3.5 rounded up.
Jodie Picoult is a prolific writer, and if you’ve read any of her books, you know she confronts head on some tough, controversial and always relevant issues. This one couldn’t be more timely with this predominantly conservative Supreme Court we will more than likely have, who could possibly reverse Roe v Wade. We see mass shootings and hostage situations too frequently on the news. This book takes us inside a hostage situation, where people are shot inside an women’s clinic that provides abortion services. Picoult has done a terrific job of reflecting both pro-choice and pro-life points of view. Most people who read this book will probably have their own opinion on the issue, and what happens here most likely isn’t going to change that. At the very least by giving us characters with different perspectives, those who want their babies, those who don’t, or those who do, but just can’t because of circumstances, she gives us a chance to see things differently from where we may stand.
I’m not going to focus at all on the plot, but rather on the number of things that I liked about this story. I liked how the hostages, some of whom didn’t know each other connected. I liked how Picoult moves rapidly from character to character and gives us each of their stories. In this cast of characters, my favorite was Louie, the abortion doctor, who was pro-life but wanted those who wanted an abortion to have it safely. He remembers his mother. It made me think about how easily we judge people without knowing what they have experienced. It made me think about the victims of these types of crimes and of how little we know them except for a few things they tell us in the news.
What didn’t quite work for me was the structure of the book which reads backwards in time and I’m not really sure why. It didn’t add anything to the story for me. It felt repetitive at times. There were a couple of relationship twists which I guessed, but ultimately did made sense for the story and were realistic. Picoult could have been preachy, but she wasn’t. She has written a thought provoking story, one that encourages dialogue. In the end what I liked about the book outweighed what I didn’t like so I will round up it to 4 stars.
I received an advanced copy of this book from Random House Publishing Group - Ballantine through NetGalley.
Didn’t care for this book, but there’s an asterisk on that. First, I love Jodi Picoult. Her ability to see something from every point of view is the kind of extreme empathy we need more of in this county. I also love the vision of this novel. She examines abortion from the top of the iceberg and slowly works down to the broader scope of the issue, both from the perspective of pro-choice and pro-life characters.
It was a risky move to write this in reverse chronological order, where every chapter goes back an hour. It paid off thematically and fit her vision well, but also created an awkward reading experience. Worse than the reverse order, however, are the multitudes of mini sections that jump point of view. I didn’t count, but there must’ve been 20 major characters, few with any kind of spotlight role. The struggle to keep track of everyone was very real.
Now, I listened to the audio version which may have made it harder on me, but looking at the psychical copy I don’t think paper would’ve been any better. She uses a double space to signify character change, and each character only gets 1-2 pages before it shifts again. Had each POV shift been given a chapter number, there would likely be 200 chapters in the book. Yikes!
For the vast majority of the time I listened to the book, I had no idea what was going on. I knew there was a shooter and I could remember vague sketches of character back-and-front story, but ultimately i was only able to finish by enjoying the moments of internal dialogue or occasional dramatic moment when Jodi would bring the news to life.
OVERALL: while I didn’t enjoy reading A Spark of Light, I have to give kudos for its thematic success. It’s one of the few novels to really discuss abortion in a meaningful way. Actually, it’s the only one I can think of. I wish there had been fewer characters, but I also can’t see any other way to examine an issue this far-reaching. To best enjoy it, consider making a character cheat sheet as you go along so it won’t be so confusing.