Books: My Sister’s Keeper

Lately, I have been having nightmares, where I’m cut into so many pieces that there isn’t enough of me to be put back together.

My Sister’s Keeper revolves around the Fitzgerald family. Kate Fitzgerald has been diagnosed with leukemia at a young age. Her younger sister, Anna, was conceived as a “designer baby” to be a perfect bone marrow match to Kate, and has been through numerous medical procedures as Kate’s donor to keep her alive. The story kicks off with a nice dramatic lawsuit, in which Anna files for medical emancipation against her parents.

While the novel is all about Kate’s struggle with cancer, Jodi Picoult chooses to tell the story of a family that is burning out. Each chapter is told first-person by a character involved in the controversial lawsuit: Anna, Kate, Jesse (older brother), Sara (mother), Brian (father), Campbell (lawyer), or Julia (Guardian ad litem for Anna). We hear very little directly from Kate, except in two short sections of the novel. My Sister’s Keeper also draws out a very fascinating debate about morality and parenting through a heart-breaking and conflicting situation.

Anna

Kids think with their brains cracked wide open; becoming an adult, I’ve decided, is only a slow sewing shut.

At a tender age of thirteen, Anna is one of the wisest characters in the novel. She is also portrayed as one of the most conflicted characters due to her love for Kate and desire to be free from Kate.  Anna is aware of her position in the Fitzgerald family. Between her sickly older sister and juvenile delinquent older brother, she is the one who holds the family together. Anna is my favorite character because of her in-depth understanding of her life and her raw emotions. Because of this, I very much despise how Picoult ended the story by killing Anna off in a random car accident.

There was nothing that builds up to such an ending (except for heavy rain). In the end, a wonderfully developed and deep character such as Anna is finished off as a tragic hero. Like her knack for being a hockey goalie, Anna is a character who saves. Her freak accident leaves her instantly brain-dead, and isn’t that all swell and dandy? Kate gets to have her kidney and ends up living normally after the surgery. Anna saves Kate’s life, the broken Fitzgerald family and even Campbell and Julia’s relationship before she dies off like a used tissue. If Kate was right, and one of them “had to go”, I would’ve chosen to keep Anna in a heartbeat.

The court had ruled in her favor, allowing her freedom to decide what happens to her body. If Anna had lived, I would be able to read about whether or not she chooses to give Kate her kidney in her own free will. I would be able to find out whether or not the Fitzgerald family can live on with both daughters alive and healthy, or if Kate’s body would reject the kidney and die. I would be able to see Anna become her own person, one who is no longer intimately entangled with Kate. I would hopefully have been able to see an end to Sara neglecting Anna and Jesse. Unfortunately, I was not able to realize any of these points because Picoult had conjured up a story so sensitive that she too, probably had no idea how to end it.

At the end of the trial, Anna is asked about what she wants to do and who she wants to be after ten years. She says she still wants to be Kate’s sister. Behold, that is what she is ultimately remembered as: Kate’s forever sister- one who has her blood pumping through Kate’s veins, among other body parts. Her very existence and sole purpose in life had been to save Kate. And while that mission was accomplished with her involuntary sacrifice, Anna never ended up amounting to anything else.

Kate

Dark matter has a gravitation effect on other objects. You can’t see it, you can’t feel it, but you can watch something being pulled in its direction.

I don’t hate Kate, but I hate what she does to Anna. I know she has a tough life to live- one that is likely to be even tougher than Anna’s- but I never got the chance to understand her character, so she is very mysterious to me in a distanced way. At times I feel as if Kate has gotten to live more of a life than Anna. She had the experience of falling in love and going to camp, while Anna was restricted from such opportunities because she had to be available if anything happens to Kate.

The most interesting part about Kate is her relationship with Anna. Kate tells Anna that she wants to die, which I find very understandable for the difficulties she has to overcome to live. This solution may seem simple to her because she thinks she is the one who is deciding her death, but it really puts Anna in an awkward position. Anna is basically the key (or should I say keeper?) to Kate. If Kate wishes to die, then Anna would have to force herself not to be Kate’s donor, even if she really wishes for her sister to live. It just makes me wonder: how would it feel to have to make your younger sister “kill” you?

Jesse

How does someone go from thinking that if he cannot rescue, he must destroy? And do you blame him, or do you blame the folks who should have told him otherwise?

Jesse is the second most intriguing character to me. Since the beginning, the doctors had pointed out that he was not a match for Kate, hence, why his parents decided to have Anna. I believe that point in his life marked the beginning of a lost boy who grows up to be a smoker, drinker, drug user, and arsonist. While the first three aspects of Jesse may simply be out of his thirst for attention within the Fitzgerald family, the last definition of Jesse is what really sparks my interest in him.

It is important to point out that Brian is a firefighter, making it very ironic because he is continuously putting out fires his son creates. Fire is a common symbol in My Sister’s Keeper. It is used to symbolize the relationships in the Fitzgerald family. To Brian and Jesse, it also symbolizes cancer and an uncontrollable force they want to be able to control. Brian and Jesse make a lovely contrasting parallel. Often, Brian enjoys working because then he can be away from his family issues. Brian is able to save people from fires, a feat that is not possible in the context of his daughter’s illness. At his breaking point, Jesse says that he “couldn’t save her”. The “her” refers to Kate, and opens up the idea of Jesse’s frustration in not being able to help Kate like Anna can. Jesse’s fascination with fire and starting them are a result of his desire to be in control of fire, and figuratively to be able to control Kate’s illness as well.

Throughout the story, Jesse is a child who has been given up by Sara and Brian, who have “bigger” issues to deal with in Kate. Jesse must have a love-hate relationship with Kate, very similar to Anna and Kate. At the end of the novel, Jesse becomes a police officer with a specialty in cracking drug cases. This kind of development makes me laugh at how ironic it is. Kate grows up to be a dance teacher, a career she had wished for because she believes that a dancer is in complete control of her body. The end of Kate’s illness also brings great relief to Sara and Brian, who have been focusing on keeping Kate alive for the past sixteen years. Regrettably, the parents always focused on letting Kate live to the fullest. And now Anna is gone without ever really having lived at all.

Basically, everyone becomes happy because of Anna’s death. She is the saddest character I have read about in a long time.

The answer is that there is no good answer. So as parents, as doctors, as judges, and as a society, we fumble through and make decisions that allow us to sleep at night—because morals are more important than ethics, and love is more important than law.

sincerelyloewe

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To Loewe:

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