Jodi Picoult


BOB ABERNETHY, anchor: This coming June Hollywood releases a major motion picture dealing with a difficult ethical issue — genetic engineering. It’s based on one of the novels of Jodi Picoult, who creates bestsellers out of tough moral choices. Bob Faw has the story.

BOB FAW: Squirreled away in her New Hampshire farmhouse and writing at a feverish pace, Jodi Picoult does more than churn out best-selling novels on gut-wrenching moral dilemmas. She also forces her readers to think, even squirm.

JODI PICOULT: I’m not going to tell a person how to think, don’t believe in that. What I want to do, when I write these books, is just to say don’t be so sure of yourself. Let me pull the carpet out from underneath you, and let’s see if you can still find the footing.

FAW: She has done in each of her 16 books, which have sold over 15 million copies — some so provocative, with so many twists and turns, they’ve been turned into films. Next month Hollywood releases her “My Sister’s Keeper,” which explores the implications of genetic engineering.

(Video clip from “My Sister’s Keeper”)

ANNA: Most babies are accidents. Not me. I was engineered — born to save my sister’s life.

FAW: What happens, Picoult asks, when the child conceived to help save her sister decides that she doesn’t want to?

(Video clip from “My Sister’s Keeper”):

MOTHER: What’s going on? Anna, you’re suing us?

ANNA: I don’t want to do it anymore Mom. It’s my body. I want to be able to make my own decisions on what to do with it.

Ms. PICOULT: You may read that book and say it is morally wrong to conceive a child to save the life of another sick child. But if I put you on, you know, underneath the microscope, if I point a finger at you and say you are in that situation, can you honestly tell me, as a parent, that you would not do anything you had to, to save the life of your child? I really defy you to be able to say that you would not do it, too.

FAW: Picoult chooses contemporary topics like that, often ripped from the headlines, for example, examining the death penalty in “Change of Heart.” After the tragedy at Columbine, she wrote “19 Minutes,” which focuses not only on bullying but on the moral dilemma of parents whose son has, as in Columbine, gunned down 10 of his classmates.

Ms. PICOULT: Can you be a good parent and still wind up with a child that commits a horrific act? And if your child does that, how can you love a child that does that? If you’re a good parent how can you not love him?

FAW: What has to resonate with you before you embark on a topic?

Ms. PICOULT: It has to be something that I’m usually worried about — something that keeps me up at night. It’s the thing that’s like a splinter in your brain that won’t go away — that you keep circling back to, over and over. And I keep thinking about it and asking myself questions like what would you do in that situation, or what if this parameter had changed? And I keep thinking about that. I know it’s going to be a great idea for a book.

FAW: In “The Tenth Circle” Picoult explores the moral choices facing a teenager living in a culture of sexuality and drugs. Her latest book, “Handle with Care,” which is already at the top of the charts, centers around a five-year-old girl, Willow, who has a severe disability.

Ms. PICOULT (talking to audience): The family has found, like many other families who are struggling to raise a child with a disability, that money is a big problem, because there’s not a lot out there in terms of insurance or funding, and that’s sort of the situation that we walk into when “Handle with Care” opens. (Begins reading from novel): Pick 10 strangers and stick them in a room and ask them which one of us they feel sorrier for — you or me?”

FAW: The girl has osteogenesis imperfecta, leaving her with bones so brittle she will have thousands of breaks during her lifetime. To pay for her care, her mother files a wrongful birth suit against her obstetrician, who is also the mother’s best friend.

Ms. PICOULT: I think many of my books, including “Handle with Care,” including “My Sister’s Keeper” circle back to how far are we willing to go for the people we love? I think love changes the way we think. It’s the thing that takes you out of what your normal set of beliefs would be.

FAW: Picoult does extensive research for each book—visiting the Rhode Island Crime Lab for an upcoming novel, spending time on death row for “Change of Heart,” or staying on an Amish farm for “Plain Truth.” What sets her apart isn’t just the research and her painstaking attention to detail. What also sets her apart is her refusal to take the easy way out.

This is from “Vanishing Acts,” at the very end, the daughter (reading from book): “My mother and father are both right, and at the same time they are both wrong.”

Ms. PICOULT: I think that’s totally possible, and I do believe very often the closer we are to a person who’s causing us to take these actions, the blurrier that line gets for us.

FAW: It’s a willingness to grapple with all sides of a debate which has won her an almost cult-like following. Sally Crouch and her daughter, Beth, drove four hours to see Picoult at this Baltimore book signing.

BETH CROUCH: Even though it seems like black and white, I think she writes it so you really don’t know. She leaves it up to you to decide.

FAW: It’s a sentiment echoed by many of her readers.

LEAH CARTER: I think she just keeps your mind open to everything. Like, you know, if you have an opinion about one topic, then all of sudden now you can see maybe somebody else’s side of the story.

FAW: And Picoult doesn’t sugar-coat those issues. In her “Plain Truth,” for example, where an Amish teenager is charged with murdering her out-of-wedlock baby, an entire religious community is put on trial.

(From novel “Plain Truth”): In fact, Katie Fitch is the first Amish person in this state to be charged with murder, ever. You know why? Because Amish people don’t commit murder — ever.

FAW: Picoult’s portrayal is harsh. Here the villain is none other than a devout Amish mother.

post06-jodipicoultMs. PICOULT: I think that what I did was strip away the rose-colored glasses, because we have so idealized their existence, their simplicity of life and, you know, their adherence to faith that we’re not seeing them very clearly. Their citizens run the gamut.

FAW: Religion, says Picoult, has brought comfort and misery. She does not affiliate herself with any formal religion.

Ms. PICOULT: I do believe in God, though, and yet I totally support the fact that there are people who do not believe in God, and I think that if you are Catholic, that’s great, and I think if you’re Protestant, that’s great, and if you’re Jewish, that’s great, and I firmly believe that there is just not one way to do it.

FAW: Even though she forces her readers to think about the unthinkable, Picoult says for herself she’s never been happier in that New Hampshire home she shares with Delilah and Quigley, two miniature donkeys.

Ms. PICOULT: Even though I don’t write about things that come from my life because I’m — I’m lucky, and I live in a great place with great kids and, you know, a great husband, I think you can find threads of me in the characters, so that’s really what being a writer is, probably. It’s being able to dilute something about you — just a tiny little dollop of it into, you know, the heart or the soul of different characters. You are always bleeding a little piece of yourself into everybody.

FAW: Although some people of faith would say there is always a right or wrong side, for Picoult that choice is not so clear and can be agonizing to make.

post07-jodipicoultMs. PICOULT (reading from book): “Here are the things I know for sure. When you think you’re right, you are most likely wrong.”

FAW: When you think you’re right, you are most likely wrong.

Ms. PICOULT: You might think you’re on one side of it and find out you’re actually on the other.

FAW: Agonizing choices in a confusing world — the ideal ingredients for a novelist and former teacher.

Ms. PICOULT: It’s certainly my honor to be able to, hopefully, change the world a tiny bit, one mind at a time. If you can make them understand why someone with a differing opinion has that opinion and at least come to respect that opinion, I think you make the world a better place. I think I’m still teaching. It’s just a really big classroom.

FAW: Jodi Picoult, delving into the moral complexities and ambiguities of modern life and helping her readers navigate where choices are rarely black and white, but what one of her characters calls “a thousand shades of gray.”

(Video clip from “My Sister’s Keeper”)

LAWYER: You’re supposed to give her a kidney?

ANNA: I want to sue my parents for the rights to my own body.

LAWYER: Would you repeat that, please?

FAW: For RELIGION & ETHICS NEWSWEEKLY, this is Bob Faw in Hanover, New Hampshire.

  • m.j. williams

    Wanted to vote FIVE STARS and it only came out ONE. I don’t know how to change it. Great segment……

  • mbaker

    Jodie Picoult’s books are provocative, beautifully written and never condescending. If the reader is not insistent on rigid, preconceived mental boundaries, and is open to other possibilities, her stories can inspire expanded understanding and compassion for our fellow humans while remaining true a personal spiritual code.
    Love this author!

  • Missah Shahzad

    Wow..I love those stories and she is very right to leave it open and explore the other side of the coin. Not all choices have the right answer and that is the ultimate plan to accept the unexplainable ways of our human nature.

  • Mike

    Picoult is good at asking questions, which we should all do. She is also, however, insufferably arrogant, saying things like, “when you think you’re right, you are most likely wrong.” Add this to her theological relativism and she has set herself up to be everyone’s friend (don’t dare say someone might be wrong about something) and a deliciously controversial thinker (suggest that everyone is wrong.) How can everyone be right AND wrong, Ms. Picoult? They can’t, of course, but you sure do sell a lot of books.

  • Jeb Ladouceur

    I have followed Jodi Picoult and her remarkable accomplishments for several years, and I truly feel that she is the most literate author of popular fiction writing today. Furthermore, as a fellow writer who knows her personally, I can say that Jodi is one of those rare people who is totally unaffected by her worldwide celebrity. She rewards her readers … and her friends … in many ways. That they should reciprocate is hardly surprising. At one point last year Ms. Picoult had four novels listed on The New York Times charts simultaneously … an incredible achievement, and an unparalleled one as far as I know.

  • marny hayward

    i sort of live “down the road” from her…in Springfield, NH. She sure takes the “I’m right” out of the equation and makes you realize that there’s a “right and wrong” in most of what we do….black and white don’t always exist…most things are a shade of gray…

  • marilynn parker

    Richard Holloway has as a frontispiece of his book Doubts and Loves: What is left of Christianity the following:
    From the place where we are right
    flowers will never grow
    in the Spring.

    The place where we are right
    is hard and trampled
    like a yard.

    But doubts and loves
    dig up the world
    like a mole, a plough.
    And a whisper will be heard in the place
    where the ruined
    house once stood.

    I think Jodi Pecault writes about “doubts and loves,”that “plough up the world,” and make us think – and love.

  • Gloria

    I just read My Sister’s keeper. I loved it. I have to admit it was the first book of hers that I have read. The book has a nice flow to it and I love how it is not written from a single checters perspective but rather you can see it from all angles. I think I have found my new favoriet author!

  • Bonnie

    “Welcome” to Gloria (comment written at 10:18pm on 6/9.

    Jodi has been my “favorite author” for a few years now.

    The fact that she shows the many sides of an emotionally complicated story is why I love her. She can still surprise me even after reading half of her books.

    Check out “Nineteen Minutes” and you won’t forget it.

  • carol lunke

    Why did you let Hollywood change your story? I loved you book and could hardly wait to see the movie. The lawyer’s story was not there and the ending was totally changed. I was very disappointed. Gone with the Wind never changed a word and that’s the way it should be.

  • Debbie Sevier

    I loved your book, My Sister’s Keeper finding it very well written and thought provoking. What I don’t understand is the change to the ending. Your original ending added another level that the movie audience certainly wouldn’t have been expecting. That’s what a great book does and I’m just glad that I read the book first. Movie was okay, but the book–outstanding.

  • Gilda Suarez

    I,too saw the movie last night and was very disappointed. However, this morning I read Jodie disclosure on the movie. She had no control over what Hollywood did to the movie. For a decade now, I read rather than go to the movies. Jodie, you keep writing stories like you have in the past. You will survive. Hollywood, I wish you and your stars would just go away. You insult our intelligence with your arrogance,beginning with the directors, producers and actors. What a pathetic profession.

  • Teri Dinofia

    I saw the movie friday nite and I too was very disappointed but also knew Jodi probably didn’t have much to say in the way Hollywood would turn it. The ending in the book was the hook of the story, Hollywood You messed that up by taking it away. You made the endng flat, nothing special, nothing memorable. It’s the thing that broke your heart to pieces from already being broken from Kates illness.
    How Can you explain a sister to sister relationship, unless you have one and are one you can’t relate. You can’t imagine losing your sister, but when you do, this book brings even more of a meaning. Anna’s death in the book broke my heart for both her demise, ( because I could Relate to her being the younger sister, but also that her strongest desire was to save her sister and in death she did that.
    Shame on Hollywood foe ruining a perfctly good book.

  • Jodi Walter

    My Sister’s Keeper was the first of Jodi Picout’s books that I and my family and friends have read. Since then we have all read everyone of hers. We all looked forward to the movie of ‘My Sister’s Keeper” and were all SHOCKED that the ending had been changed! The original ending was a major part of the book so am wondering what was the point of changing it. How can they do that!! Also they changed Anne’s age from 13 to 11, what was the point of that!!

  • Marci Andis

    I love reading her books! Does anyone know about her child who had 10 surgeries in 3 years? That was the first sentence of her Acknowledgments for “My Sister’s Keeper”.

  • Michael DeMarco

    I read all of Jodi picoult books and I love them all. About 2 years ago when I heard the movie “MY SISTERS KEEPER” was coming out out and it look like a good movie so I desided too by it and read it. It took me 4 days toread it. I LOVED IT! I cried when I when finsh it. It was the best book I read

  • hoe

    this book is boring

  • TheWall

    I haveonly read my sisters keeper, and whilst the moral questions asked are quite ‘juicy’ and the story is good, the actual style of writing seemed a little bland and didn’t keep me hooked. as for the interveiw she struck me as being rather stuck up and arrogant, particularly with her point on religion, everyone has opinions Jodi, stop trying to hide it.