A Spark of Light (Book Review)

I rarely write reviews of the books I read, mostly because I am usually well into another book by the time I finished reading one, but sometimes, if I feel very strongly either positively or negatively, I am inclined to review one. I’m hoping to start reviewing a few more, and generally my reviews will be about why I like a book, as I often just don’t finish a book if I don’t like it. But I’m writing a strongly negative review this time.

I recently finished reading A Spark of Light, by Jodi Picoult, one of my favorite novel writers, whose books I enjoy both for how engaging her writing is (hard for me to put down, so I have to space out how often I read them) and for the well-researched ways she presents the complexity of challenging contemporary issues. I was very disappointed with this book. I’ve enjoyed many books by Picoult and have appreciated the diverse points of view she presents, but she failed to do that with A Spark of Light. One of the things I have loved about her books is the way she presents both (or multiple) sides of an issue with well-rounded characters with whom one can sympathize and relate to. That has made me come away from her books with a better understanding of why people would approach an issue differently than I do, and greater understanding of the complexity of whatever issue the book is dealing with. In some cases that has even resulted in me modifying my own views. Not so with this book. In A Spark of Light, Picoult presents the pro-life characters as shallow, extreme, and unlikable. While there certainly are some who fit that description, it is an unfair and inaccurate caricature of the majority of pro-life people.

In her Author’s Note at the end of the book, Picoult states that she interviewed pro-life advocates and they were “not religious zealots…were appalled by acts of violence…weren’t trying to circumvent women’s rights or tell women what to do with their bodies,” and that she had enjoyed conversation with them. So why did that not come across in her writing? I can’t imagine anyone coming away from this book feeling sympathy with any of the pro-life characters. It seems to me that Picoult threw aside one of her greatest strengths in her writing in order to get across a political message. I’ve seen other writers do that, too,and it is always dismaying, even when I have agreed with the point they were making or perspective they were advocating. I may still read some of Picoult’s books I haven’t read yet, but I am less interested in reading her more recent ones.