Monday, January 04, 2010

I Just Listened to: Songs of…

… the Humpback Whale

I have been a Jodi Picoult fan for a few years, but I had never read her early novel, Songs of the Humpback Whale. The Copper Queen Library recently acquired a copy on CD, so I took the opportunity to listen to it in my car. I had heard criticism of the book and wasn’t sure that I would find it as engaging as her other novels. I found it good, if not as sophisticated as some of Picoult’s later work.

The first Picoult book I read was My Sister’s Keeper, and I was fascinated by the legal and medical ethics as well as the family dynamics that were explored in that novel. After that, I read all the rest of her books in quick succession and am always waiting for the next one to be published.

In all of her books, Picoult explores the various sides of a given issue. Questions that at first blush seem easy are often revealed to be exceedingly complex and impossible to solve. Back in the ‘60s, we called this “situational ethics.” I don’t know what it is called now, but it makes for some interesting reading. Songs of the Humpback Whale takes a fairly traditional approach. Each chapter is written from the perspective of a specific character, a total of five voices telling the story.

Songs of the Humpback Whale – This novel portrays an emotionally charged marriage that changes course in one explosive moment. Jane Jones has lived in the shadow of her husband, renowned San Diego oceanographer Oliver Jones. But during an escalating argument, Jane turns on him with an alarming volatility. In anger and fear, Jane leaves with their teenage daughter, Rebecca, for a cross-country odyssey. Oliver, an expert at tracking humpback whales across vast oceans, will search for his wife across a continent – and find a new way to see the world, his family, and himself: through her eyes.

Change of Heart - Picoult's story tackles a triple-whammy of hot-button issues – the death penalty, bioethics, and religious freedom. Shay, a condemned inmate, wishes to donate his heart to the sister of his murder victim after he is executed. A mesmerizing page-turner, Change of Heart examines the topic of religious dogma against the plight of a child's struggle with life and death.

Handle With Care - The story of a family living with its youngest child's rare medical condition, which causes her bones to break from the slightest impact. The story is told from the perspectives of the major players in the drama. Another novel that tackles medical and legal issues which appear clear cut in the abstract, but which become complex when one attaches names, faces, and lives to those involved.

Keeping Faith - When the marriage of Mariah White and her cheating husband, Colin, turns ugly and disintegrates, their seven-year-old daughter, Faith, is there to witness it all. In the aftermath of a rapid divorce, Mariah falls into a deep depression – and suddenly Faith, a child with no religious background whatsoever, hears divine voices, starts reciting Biblical passages, and develops stigmata. And when the miraculous healings begin, mother and daughter are thrust into the volatile center of controversy and into the heat of a custody battle – trapped in a mad media circus that threatens what little stability the family has left.

My Sister’s Keeper - Anna is not sick, but she might as well be. By age thirteen, she has undergone countless surgeries, transfusions, and shots so that her older sister, Kate, can fight the leukemia that has plagued her since childhood. Anna was conceived as a bone marrow match for Kate – a life and a role that she has never challenged, until now. Like most teenagers, Anna is beginning to question who she truly is. But unlike most teenagers, she has always been defined in terms of her sister – and so, Anna makes a decision that for most would be unthinkable, a decision that will tear her family apart and have perhaps fatal consequences for the sister she loves.

Picture Perfect - Cassie Barrett, a renowned anthropologist, and Alex Rivers, one of Hollywood's hottest actors, met on the set of a motion picture in Africa. They shared childhood tales, toasted the future, and declared their love in a fairy-tale wedding. But when they return to California, something alters the picture of their perfect marriage. A frightening pattern is taking shape – a cycle of hurt, denial, and promises, thinly veiled by glamour. Torn between fear and something that resembles love, Cassie wrestles with questions she never dreamed she would face: How can she leave? Then again, how can she stay?

Plain Truth - The discovery of a dead infant in an Amish barn shakes Lancaster County to its core. Circumstantial evidence suggests that eighteen-year-old Katie Fisher, an unmarried Amish woman believed to be the newborn's mother, took the child's life. When Ellie Hathaway, a disillusioned big-city attorney, comes to Paradise, Pennsylvania, to defend Katie, two cultures collide – Ellie faces a system of justice very different from her own. Delving deep inside the world of those who live "plain," Ellie must find a way to reach Katie on her terms.


Tenth Circle - Trixie Stone is in love for the first time. Her world is turned upside down with a single act of violence. Suddenly, everything Trixie has believed about her family – and herself – seems to be a lie. Could the boyfriend who once made Trixie wild with happiness have been the one to end her childhood forever? She says that he is, and that is all it takes to make her father, a seemingly mild-mannered comic book artist with a secret tumultuous past he has hidden even from his family, venture to hell and back to protect his daughter.

Vanishing Acts - Delia Hopkins has led a charmed life. Raised in rural New Hampshire by her beloved, widowed father, she now has a young daughter, a handsome fiancé, and her own search-and-rescue bloodhound, which she uses to find missing persons. But as Delia plans her wedding, she is plagued by flashbacks of a life she can't recall ... until a policeman knocks on her door, revealing a secret about herself that changes the world as she knows it – and threatens to jeopardize her future.
--by Hanje Richards