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Lone Wolf by Jodi Picoult

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RATING: 3.5/5

BLURB: “When Luke Baxter is involved in a car accident which leaves him in a coma, his family are gathered together against the odds; they face an impossible dilemma. His daughter Cara is praying for a miracle: she will fight everything and everyone to save her daughter’s life. His son Edward can’t imagine that a man who once ran with wolves could ever be happy with a different life. But Edward hasn’t spoken to Luke for six years. How can he dare to speak on his father’s behalf? Somehow, they must choose: Do they keep Luke alive? Or do they let him go?”

REVIEW: Continuing on my sudden obsession with Jodi Picoult’s novels (thanks to a very close friend of mine), I began ‘Lone Wolf’ during a train journey yesterday and finished it on my return today – once again, I simply could not put it down. The book deals with a dilemma that all of us hope we never have to face – the choice between life and death for someone we love. Cara and her father Luke live on a reserve for wolves that has seen Luke achieve fame and huge scientific advancement in the understanding of wolves and pack behaviour; the two are very close, and Cara sought refuge with Luke after his divorce from her mother and her mother’s subsequent remarriage. Cara’s older brother, however, is in Thailand at the start of the novel, teaching English as he has been for the past six years after an argument that everyone assumes was based upon Luke’s reaction to Edward’s homosexuality. When Cara and Luke are involved in a dramatic car accident, however, Edward returns home and, as Cara is a minor and Luke never remarried, he is the one made responsible for deciding whether Luke should remain attached to the ventilator machine that is keeping him alive while he is in a coma, or whether to turn the ventilators off and end Luke’s life completely. While Edward believes that letting his father die would be the most merciful solution, Cara fights this with all her might, and this is where the reader begins to be torn between the two siblings. The novel forces us, like many Picoult novels do, to confront an uncomfortable and frightening situation, to put ourselves in a position that we hope never to be in, and experience the same conflict as they characters in the novel. It is a dilemma that makes the book truly heartbreaking, and the involvement of the wolves – who are closely attached to Luke – makes the novel all the more emotional for any animal lovers like myself. Although I enjoyed this novel slightly less than I did ‘Nineteen Minutes’, which I found to be far more intense, I cannot overstate how brilliant this novel was, how heartbreaking it was, and how intelligently it makes you think.

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Nineteen Minutes by Jodi Picoult

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RATING: 5/5

BLURB: “As a midwife, Lacy Houghton brings lives into the world. She did not expect her son to take them away. But that’s what he did one March morning, when he walked into his high school with guns instead of books and killed ten people. Along with the rest of the shocked and grief-stricken town, Lacy is left wondering when her shy 17-year-old boy turned into a monster. And was it her fault? In the aftermath of the shooting, Lacy searches the past for clues and begins to realise that despite, or perhaps because of, her every effort, she never really knew her son at all…”

REVIEW: This book came highly recommended to me by a friend, and I was eager to try it as the only previous work of Picoult’s that I had read – ‘My Sister’s Keeper’ – was one I recalled to be a gripping, moving and tender novel that stayed with me long after I had turned the final page. This novel had much the same effect on me, but in a very different sense. ‘Nineteen Minutes’ tells the story of a teenager named Peter Houghton, who is bullied and taunted mercilessly throughout his school life – until, one day, he finally cracks and decides to get revenge on those who caused him such pain and misery. The first hundred pages of this novel deal mainly with this horrific event, with detail that will both leave you hooked and make your stomach turn, heart pounding with fear for all of these innocent victims. This section of the novel also introduces Alex Cormier and her daughter Josie – once friends with Peter and his mother, the two women had a falling out that left the friendship of their two children destroyed, worsened once Josie abandoned Peter to join the popular crowd at Sterling High. The book cleverly flashes between the events leading up to the shooting and the ripple effect it has on the community afterwards, making for some truly heartbreaking scenes that will stay with the reader forever. What sticks with the reader most, however, is how this novel blurs the lines between right and wrong – how it makes us question our moral values and our status in society. Because, I feel, it would almost impossible not to feel some level of sympathy for Peter, even once we learn the true extent of his crimes. It is even more difficult to hate this compelling protagonist if the reader themselves was bullied and therefore identifies with him on some, however minor, level. Although barely anyone who was bullied would ever think of acting in the same manner as Peter, it does make it easier for us to empathise with him and understand his actions. This is shocking in itself, and makes the reader feel somewhat uncomfortable – we do not want to identify and sympathise with a murderer, but how can we possibly help it once we learn the extent of his suffering at the hands of bullies like Josie’s own boyfriend, Matt? This conflict remains throughout the book and is one I have been considering ever since I put the book down around six hours ago and simply sat there crying for a while, taking it all in. This book is undoubtedly one of the best works I have ever read, taking on a very real and topical issue and turning it into something that we, as the reading public, can just about begin to understand. I would highly recommend this book, not only for its dealings with sensitive themes but also for the lessons it teaches and for the brilliant page-turning nature of it. I have a feeling that the emotions I felt whilst reading this novel will stay with me for some time to come.

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Great Expectations by Charles Dickens

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RATING: 4.5/5

BLURB: “One of Charles Dickens’ most beloved novels, ‘Great Expectations’ follows the orphan Pip as he leaves behind a childhood of misery and poverty after an anonymous benefactor offers him the chance of a life as a gentleman. From young Pip’s first encounter with the convict Magwitch in the gloom of a graveyard to the splendidly morbid set pieces in Miss Havisham’s mansion to the magnificently realised boat chase down the Thames, the novel is filled with the transcendent excitement that Dickens could so abundantly provide. Written in 1860 at the height of his maturity, it also reveals the novelist’s bittersweet understanding of the extent to which our deepest moral dilemmas are born of our own obsessions and illusions”

REVIEW: When I was in primary school, I remember having an extremely ambitious and enthusiastic English teacher who decided that we, at the age of ten, should be introduced to the great works of English literature. He did not begin with an easy novel, of course – he chose Charles Dickens’ ‘Great Expectations’. And, much to my surprise, I loved this novel from the very start. Whenever I read it I can still hear my teacher’s voice setting the scene of the gloomy and frightening graveyard, an image which instantly made an impression on my young mind; an impression that has stayed with me ever since. I have re-read the novel many times since then, and each time the magic of that first reading is recaptured for me. The story of Pip, a young boy whose innocence and kindness is forever corrupted after his association with the disturbed, jilted bride Miss Havisham and her young and beautiful ward, the casually cruel Estella, is one that continues to resonate across the ages. It deals most importantly with themes of guilt and innocence, with the idea of the corrupting influence of money, with the growing divide between rich and poor that was starkly present during the Victorian era. As with all of Dickens’ novels, the suffering of the characters is something that is so well-written that the reader almost begins to feel such suffering themselves. The character of Miss Havisham terrified me upon my first reading of the novel, and nowadays I concede with the view that she is one of the most complex, challenging and ambiguous characters in literary history – which, oddly, makes her one of my favourites. This novel is one that shaped my view of books by introducing me to the world of Victorian classics, and changed my outlook on literature for good. It is my favorite of all of Dickens’ works and I would highly recommend it.