“It stood to reason that both life and death began with a spark of light.”
Jodi Picoult has done it again. A Spark of Light is a well written, well researched, culturally and socially relevant book. Although it is a difficult read at times I do believe it’s an important one. Ms Picoult has never shied away from controversial or difficult subjects and with this novel she tackles what can be one of the most dividing and emotive issues there is.
I have never read a book written in a reverse timescale before. I found it strange starting at the end so to speak, and initially found it hard to get to grips with. But after a few chapters I was used to it and began to enjoy the novelty of it and couldn’t wait to see how the author takes us back in time and reveals what brought each person to the Center that day. Obviously we know some things from the outset: 15-year-old Wren is there with her Auntie Bex, Hugh is the hostage negotiator and Wren’s father, Dr Louie Ward is the doctor who works at the Centre, Izzy is a nurse and assists him with the wounded, Joy is there for an abortion, Janine is a pro-life protester working undercover, and the shooter, George, is there for revenge after his daughter had an abortion. But as always there is more to their stories; layers that when peeled back reveal hidden secrets and false assumptions and how the characters lives are entwined in unexpected ways.
As you can imagine, this book is not an easy read for many reasons. It can be graphic in it’s medical descriptions and heartbreaking at times. In particular I found the scene involving a fifteen week abortion hard as I almost lost my son at that stage of pregnancy. However, it was informative and sensitivity written, and I felt for the character who hadn’t wanted to wait until that point for her abortion.
One of the reasons that Jodi Picoult has been my favourite author ever since I bought and read My Sister’s Keeper when it was first released is how well she researches her subjects. For A Spark of Light she spoke with 151 women who’d had a termination, interviewed pro-life activists, shadowed a doctor who performs terminations and even observed some procedures at various stages of pregnancy. This thorough research is obvious in the depth of factual details in the story. Another reason I love her work is that she doesn’t tell the reader what to think. In this book she writes without judgement of either side of the debate and leaves you to make up your own mind. I found it easy to relate to each of the characters, even if I didn’t agree with their viewpoints.
I bought this book while on holiday in the States. Despite having a signed copy on order I was gutted to miss meeting her on her book tour. So on a late night whim while driving from St Louis to Alabama, I bought A Spark of Light in a Walmart in Mississippi, it having been released four weeks earlier in the US than it was due in the UK. At the time I didn’t know it was set in that state so purchasing it there later felt serendipitous. I do think that being in the US during this time of such huge debate about the abortion issue helped me have a deeper appreciation for the book and just how important and relevant it is. As a UK resident I was unprepared for the multiple pro-life billboards as we drove along the highway in both Northern and Southern States. Although I would have no doubt still enjoyed the novel I feel being here while reading it gave me a connection to it that I wouldn’t have had otherwise.
The author has written a spectacular, gripping book that is also informative and unforgettable. It shows you how nothing is ever black and white, there are many shades of gray and that these things affect our decisions, choices and views in life. It can lead to two people making very different courses of action for exactly the same reasons. I found this quote particularly poignant: “We are all drowning slowly in the tide of our opinions, oblivious that we are taking on water every time we open our mouths.”