GP Book Group

Occasionally, a book has the power to take a reader by surprise. Once started, it becomes impossible to set aside. This is such a book.

My Sister’s Keeper
Jodi Picoult
Hodder £6.99 ISBN 0-340-83546-X


Firefighter and paramedic Brian Fitzgerald and his wife Sarah, plus children Jesse and Kate live as any American middle class family. Then Kate is diagnosed with leukaemia.

Faced with remissions and relapses and, subsequently, a dwindling list of therapeutic possibilities, the Fitzgeralds plan a third child as a genetically matched sibling for Kate. Such is the background to Anna’s birth.

For her first 13 years, Anna’s existence is entwined with that of Kate. Each relapse and hospital admission for Kate becomes a round of blood donations, injections and bone marrow harvesting for Anna. Fortunately, Anna and Kate have a close bond.

Jesse is the black sheep of the family. He stretches the family’s forbearance to the ‘nth’ degree by his non-conformist activities.

Then Kate becomes in need of a kidney transplant. But Anna, the obvious donor, feels this is a step too far. The teenager instructs a lawyer to assist her in obtaining medical emancipation from her parents. Such action places intense pressure on the family, revealing aspects of their characters which were previously unknown even to themselves. Anna’s stand also presents the legal and medical professionals with an interesting dilemma, for which there are few precedents.

The story is written in the first person, with each chapter taking the voice of a different character and, for me, that works well.

Dealing with genetic engineering and the possibility of cloning humans, My Sister’s Keeper is very topical. The story highlights the human capacity for burden. It prods at the reader’s emotions, and in places the intensity is overpowering. The book is well worth reading.

Dr Robert Jaggs Fowler is a GP in Lincolnshire and North Yorkshire

What GP readers thought about ‘My Sister’s Keeper’
Dr Barbara Elliot, a GP from Somerset, says: ‘An excellent read. I liked the way each chapter was told by one family member at a time, and focused on the moral choices we have to face when confronted with serious illness in a child. It is easy to empathise with the characters.’

Dr Sarah Alderson, a GP from Leeds, adds: ‘The subject was handled very well with all sides of the ethical discussion covered in this excellent novel. Could not put it down. The only thing that spoilt it was the very last chapter, I wish it could have finished the chapter before, making it far more believable’.

Dr Jeremy Black, a GP from Cardiff, says: ‘I hadn’t read any Jodi Picoult books before this one, and I don’t think this habit will alter. The book starts from a simple question: can a minor refuse treatment that is not beneficial to her, but that may be life-saving to her sibling? To those of us familiar with medical consent in the UK, the answer is straightforward. But it takes 394 pages for Ms Picoult to confirm that the USA would agree.

‘Switching narrative from one character to another was too frequent and it made it disjointed. The surprise twist at the end annoyed me. I had struggled through 400 pages of adequate prose only to be played for a sucker. We still didn’t find out what the main character would do when it came to the crunch.

‘Perhaps it would have been better to take a clearly less competent child who withholds consent and ask who and when someone should step in to protect the child.

‘Oh, and what good is a seizure dog for an epileptic? What does it do? Lick the person back to self-awareness? How odd that the lingering question after reading this book should be so mundane.’

Dr Chee Sheng Wong, a GP from East Sussex, comments: ‘The structure, with the main players in the drama telling chapters, helped me see the various viewpoints. Some of the peripheral happenings are almost impossible to believe, making it more interesting, and there is an extremely unexpected turn at the end that fortunately solves the problems for this family.’

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