Thursday, March 3, 2011

A Review of "Sing You Home" [14]

Sing You Home: A Novel by Jodi Picoult
Atria, ISBN 978-1439102725
March 1, 2011, 480 pages

Suddenly I am seized by a cramp so intense that all the breath rushes out of my body and I jackknife forward.
“Zoe?” My mother’s voice seems far away. I struggle to my feet.
Twenty-eight weeks, I think. Too soon.
Another current rips through me. As I fall against my mother, I feel a warm gush between my legs. “My water,” I whisper. “I think it just broke.”
But when I glance down, I am standing in a pool of blood.
Music therapist Zoe Baxter and her husband Max, want desperately to have a child and all their failing attempts are starting to take a huge medical, financial and emotion toll on their marriage. When she suffers a heartbreaking stillbirth well into her last pregnancy, it is the final straw for the marriage and Max walks out of the house and out of their life together. Dealing with both these losses, very depressed, Zoe finds herself turned around by the friendship of a counselor at one of the schools she works at, a friendship that turns quickly (perhaps too quickly to be really believable) into a romance. Add to that the fact that her new love is a woman, Vanessa.
Quickly (maybe too quickly again) married in Massachusetts, the couple decide to get use the frozen embryos Zoe and Max have to try and have a baby together, with Zoe's new spouse carrying the child. But when she goes to Max to get permission, she finds herself in the middle of a court case, being sued for custody.

While I admit I have not read a lot of Ms. Picoult books, I totally loved My Sister's Keeper...and not just for the amazing ending. So when I read that she had a new book coming out, and the topics sounded so interesting, so timely, I was thrilled to get my hands on a copy. I opened the package and started reading it immediately.
Rarely have I been so disappointed in a book. Not for the controversial subject matter, no, not at all! In fact, just the opposite. No, what disappointed me is that Sing Me Home presents these topics in such a one sided, unfair, incomplete way, so less than what they deserve.

I have seen a number of rave reviews for this book in the last few days. I can not agree.
Picoult is a fine writer...and she does know how to create a good ending. I will happily give her that. And I must say that the book got off to a good start. The parts about the husband and wife's infertility, their marriage falling apart, her finding love in a totally unexpected place, was very good and I was hopeful that I was going to like this book. Then, for me, it fell off a cliff.
I may suggest that part of the problem is that this books wants to take on just too many controversial questions in one book. These are interesting and very important questions presented in this book, questions no doubt decided in many a court case these days. But these issues deserve better than the one sided, one dimensional portrayal Picoult gives us.

On Zoe's side, the characters are almost saints, noble, good, selfless people. Even her lawyer, who will soon be getting a halo no doubt, is just such a nice person. How can you not agree with her? Zoe and Vanessa are so nice, how can we not want them to win?
On the ex-husband's side, everyone is evil and conniving, with totally selfish and nasty motivations. Max is a weak fool, with a reoccurring drinking problem, being used by others for their own, selfish, evil reasons. His lawyer is so loathsome that he only lacks a waxed mustache to twirl as he laughs a creepy laugh, to be complete. Yes, it is hard to portray people we really disagree with as decent people, with valid much easier to paint them with a broad, ugly brush...and results in a book that could have been so much better.

As I said, I think this books starts by exploring some serious and timely topics that deserve better than the caricatures that the author descends into in the last half of the book. I don't think we get far in a discussion, as individuals or as a society, by just painting 'the other side', whatever that might be, as fools or idiots or evildoers. If you agree with the author's point of view and just want that reinforced, you may like this book and not see a problem. If you really want a fair and comprehensive exploration of some of this issues, something that makes you think, maybe makes you take another look at both sides, you will have to look elsewhere.
Rarely has a book disappointed me so much for what it could have been and was not, because the author decided to take the 'easy' way out.

My thanks to the publisher for sending me a copy of this book to review.


  1. I admit, the plot is interesting to me, but frankly I've given up on this author awhile back. Not because she is a bad writer. She always manages to keep you on pins and needles, and always tackles a newsworthy issue. But she has become so formulaic and maybe even a little manipulative. Thanks Caite, as always, for a review from the heart!

  2. I was one who loved this book. I hear where you are coming from, and I think many times Picoult formulates her novels in a manner like this so that they make for lively discussion. Some readers of this novels and most of her others will surely be heated over what she has to say and that's what I like about her style.

    Nice review Caite.

  3. well Sandy, I do try and tell it as I see it.

    Diane, you are certainly not the only one to like this book. I am ALL for lively discussion...honestly, it seems Picoult is the one that has a problem with that.

  4. I have never read a book by this author - not sure why. I guess the label of "women's fiction" sort of scares me off...

  5. I've been interested in this book because of the rave reviews. It's too bad she tried to tackle too many subjects in one book - it would be better to focus on a few and do them well, in my humble opinion.

  6. I've struggled with Picoult. I think she is too formulaic in many ways (you can predict the sequence of her books). This does sound like she is taking on every issue she can think of and cramming them all in to one book. And I'm sure it ends with a courtroom showdown and a twist ending. I know I'll probably succumb and read it at one point but I won't buy it. The library for me!

  7. I've been disappointed in a few of her later books but I'll still give this one a try soon. I do agree it's better to focus on a few subjects, than many.

  8. http://georgiotrans.rThis is a great review, you definitely made me curious. I’m going to look for this book. Thanks.o/

  9. did you guess?...yes, there is a courtroom showdown with a twist!

  10. Picoult seems to be hit or miss for me and I too have given up on her. Your review is certainly thought provoking. Good job, Caite.

  11. I'm sorry you didn't like this one. I agree that it was definitely not my favorite (You might check out House Rules, Picoult's 2010 release, Keeping Faith, Harvesting the Heart and Second Chance are Picoult's tops in my list), but for me it was more the lack of likeability in any of the characters beside Vanessa. I actually do think she took the time to paint Zoe as flawed but, as with Handle With Care, the lack of connection with characters created a lack of both sympathy and interest in the outcome. I didn't expect the twist which I enjoyed, but I hated the actual outcome with Max and Libby.

  12. Ashley, I think you have a point...when most of the characters are so one sided, it is hard.

    And i am tried of books that are all about a 'twist' matter how good it is.


please speak up, I LOVE TO HEAR FROM YOU!!