I have always loved Jodi Picoult since I read “My Sister’s Keeper”. She has such a gift for storytelling. I can’t wait for every one of her books to be adapted into a film. With an eye for detail and a knack for research, her stories never seem to disappoint me. Anyone who has read Jodi’s books is familiar with courtroom drama and her love for lawyers. Note: Jodi never went to law school but her knowledge of how the legal landscape works is just another example of her superb research skills. The legal drama sometimes does not sit well with people, as I read in the reviews on Goodreads.com. What I love most about her books is her ability and courage to confront serious issues facing American society like racism (Small Great Things), school shooting (Nineteen Minutes), the conflict between insular religious groups such as the Amish and the outside world (Plain Truth) and sometimes dark history such as the Holocaust (The Storyteller). Since she’s an American writer, many issues are American-centric, but we can learn from her writing. Her fame rests on the detail with which she captures elements of the real world and her ability to create sympathetic characters, even if we do not like them.
Small Great Things is a story about a black nurse who was accused of killing a white supremacist couple’s child. Ruth had clawed her way up to a respectable career from a poor childhood, and when she thought her life was heading in a good direction (with a son well on his way to college and herself with a stable career), she became embroiled in a legal drama that made her question the world she’d believed in. Amidst the drama, the reader is also introduced to the fraught race relations that characterizes contemporary America. The sad truth is that race relations has made very little progress, and America is still as divided as it was when Martin Luther King showcased his eloquence with “I have a dream”. Picoult’s story was written around the time when racial tensions had reached its peak; just about every two weeks, a young black man was shot by law enforcement as reported in the news and who can forget Baltimore was literally burning in Spring 2015. I found myself standing on the side of Ruth, but at the same time, I also understood the story of Turk Bauer, the white supremacist father, that drove him to make the choice that he made. Picoult’s genius is in making these characters so real; I can see a world with many Ruths; African-American women or women of any race facing one battle after another in a world that does not reflect them. Being a woman can be challenging anywhere but being a minority woman is a double whammy. But I also see a world with many Turk Bauers tormented by a rough upbringing and adult figures who led them astray. These form the prelude to a troubled adulthood.
I recently enrolled in a creative writing class as a way to develop the story I have always wanted to write. I believe reading Jodie Picoult has inspired my passion to write and deliver more than I would if I never came upon her work. To create a story focusing on contemporary issues and developing sympathetic characters that people will want to learn more about, even if these characters are flawed in so many ways. I don’t think Picoult is particularly original because all her issues are taken from the contemporary context. But despite the issues facing society today, who are the people with a personal stake in the struggles? What are their stories? This is when a good writer such as Picoult comes in – to tell stories on behalf of those whose voices are drowned out in the media frenzy. I believe any budding writer can take a page from Picoult’s playbook or more like her notebook.