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Book Review -

“A Spark of Light”

By Jodi Picoult, 2018

Jodi Picoult is a well-known American writer and producer who has published around thirty novels and short stories. Approximately forty million copies of her books have been sold and they are translated into thirty-four languages. She was born in Nesconset, New York on 19/5/66 and now lives in New Hampshire with her husband and three children. She graduated with a Creative Writing Degree from Princeton University then did her Masters Degree in Education at Harvard University. She is known for writing about controversial and moral issues.

Of necessity, the story begins with the conclusion. Teenage Wren is reunited with her father Hugh after he has negotiated with a gunman who has been holding hostage at gunpoint the people within a Women’s Health Clinic in Mississippi.

Hugh is a highly respected policeman and negotiator and he has raised Wren as a single parent. Their relationship is very close, and when the hostage situation begins he has no idea that his daughter is inside. Wren is there with her Aunt Bex, Hugh’s sister, because her relationship with her boyfriend is becoming serious and she wants advice about birth control. Aunt Bex had intended to wait for her in the car, but because of the protesters that heckle the women as they enter the clinic she has decided to come with her.

A gunman, George Goddard, has burst into the clinic and shot dead the clinic owner and a nurse and wounded the doctor. The doctor, Louie Ward, comes to the clinic four times a month on a rotational basis, finding working in the south more challenging because of religion. When he enters the clinic he has to pass through a group of anti-abortion protesters who hurl abuse at him, but he believes women have a right to choose.

Izzy is a nurse who is pregnant to her boyfriend and she has decided to have an abortion. She has a wonderful boyfriend but feels unworthy due to his privileged upbringing and her difficult and poverty-stricken childhood.

Janine is an anti-abortion activist and she has entered the clinic in disguise to spy on staff and gather information to support the anti-abortion campaign.

Olive is an older woman in a single sex relationship. She is there because she is dying of cancer and has come in for an examination and treatment.

Joy is at the clinic recovering from an abortion and Rachel, one of the nurses has escaped the clinic and raised the alarm. As the situation unfolds we learn the back stories of those in the clinic, with many surprising revelations.

Outside of the hostage situation we learn the story of Beth. She is an unsophisticated girl who attended a party with a girlfriend and was the victim of rape. She lives far from the clinic and had to raise the money to have an abortion. As there are time constraints on how far her pregnancy has progressed and she has little money, in desperation she purchases pills online. This causes her to have massive bleeding and she is hospitalized. When it becomes clear she has aborted her baby she is charged with homicide.

As those in the clinic are faced with an increasingly excitable and irrational gunman they reflect on their reasons for making the decisions they have, with sometimes startling results. There were two surprises that none of us saw coming.

This book deals with very controversial and emotional material and our discussion was lively and respectful. In true Jodi Picoult style she throws up an ethical dilemma, and through the very well drawn characters in the story she explores all sides of the situation in a very balanced way. She also notes the grief and trauma that each of the characters has experienced as a result of their decisions.

This book was very well written and easy to read, although the subject matter may be distressing to some people.