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“The Pact” by Jodi Picoult

TEEN LIBRARIAN’S REVIEW:

So I was on vacation at my very favorite beach in the entire world, sitting under an umbrella, listening to the sounds of the waves … and, duh, obviously reading a book. I am a librarian, after all! I read an absolutely fabulous new novel, “Where’d You Go, Bernadette?,” that is clever, insightful, quirky, and weirdly heartwarming. Check it out! Alas, I do not review it here, because it is an adult novel with little YA crossover. [But the narrator is an eighth grader AND I LOVED IT. Hee. That is all.]

Luckily — or unluckily! — for you good people, I also read Jodi Picoult’s 1998 teen-themed novel “The Pact,” and that, my friends, I am all over in the review department. It’s the story of lifelong friends, teenagers, who become a couple because of love, remain a couple because of expectations, and ultimately confront a promise of mutual suicide. Yeah, that’s heavy stuff, and Picoult, for all her many literary talents, does tend to dip into the old melodrama at times. But, overall, “The Pact” is a gripping novel that deftly explores the complex web of family, friendship, love, hatred, and grief. If it’s a little soapy at times, eh, so be it, because when it’s good, it’s seriously, ridiculously good.

Chris Harte and Emily Gold literally grew up together, as we discover in a series of extended flashbacks. Their moms, Gus Harte and Melanie Gold, are best friends and next-door neighbors who are both pregnant at the same time in 1979. [Remember, folks, this book is a little old, but other than a few jarring technological details — Gus has a beeper! — it’s not at all outdated thematically.] While Chris and Emily begin life as instant friends and constant companions, they eventually fall in, out, and sort of back in love again. I know “The Pact” is a book about suicide — and I’ll get to that issue, I promise! — but I felt that aspect of Chris and Emily’s relationship, that pressure to be something together at almost all costs, was so strikingly real. Emily’s crushing disappointment in not living up to that long-ordained love, in loving Chris but not LOVING him, sends her to a dark place. That pain, coupled with buried sexual abuse, an unexpected occurrence, and a crushing bout of prolonged depression, leads her to contemplate not just her own suicide, but Chris’ as well. Indeed, as the book opens, Emily tells Chris, “I love you,” which is followed by this line:

And then there was a shot.

So the kicker here — and there’s really no way to avoid spoiling it, because it happens at jump — is that following the night of the pact, Chris remains very much alive. While he’s suffering from a gaping but hardly life-threatening head wound in the ER, Emily arrives DOA. As the respective families (and friendships) just about disintegrate from pain, rage, and confusion, we start to learn more about Chris, the survivor at the center of this storm. Chris was the stalwart one, the reliable, smart, kind boy who excelled at two things: swimming and loving Emily. When Chris is arrested for Emily’s murder, it’s not too hard for us to believe that while he may not have killed her out of malice, he clearly could have done so from a toxic mix of adoration and perceived loyalty. Chris’ arrest further rips apart his family and the Golds, while also strangely bringing Chris and his distant, repressed father closer together.

Chris is imprisoned for months while awaiting trial. Picoult flashes back and forth from his prison life, filling in more and more details of Emily’s deepening pain and Chris’ ceaseless devotion. While the jail scenes can play out as a bit over the top, Chris’ pervading sense of fear and heartache is nicely conveyed, and the legal wranglings are easily comprehended. We’re ultimately set up for a splashy trial, complete with surprise witnesses and “shocking” testimony. While perceptive readers will likely view Chris’ confession as telegraphed, the details themselves — and his palpable shame and guilt — trump any obviousness. I saw much of this coming and was still utterly shocked by the depth of Chris’ misguided loyalty and sacrifice.

One of our neighboring school districts requires high school students to read “The Pact” over the summer, and I can see why. From a purely cautionary standpoint, it provides lots of useful information about the warning sides of suicide, and it depicts, with incredible emotion, the devastation left behind in the wake of such a death. Chris and Emily’s evolving relationship — complete with all its joys and disappointments — is also incredibly authentic and will likely resonate with many teens. Perhaps best of all, this book is a page turner, y’all. Beach or no beach, I would’ve devoured it in a day. It truly is that engaging.

“The Pact” is out there, so please give it a read if it now seems interesting. I should note that this one is definitely a high school book, as it contains sexuality, language, drinking, etc. If you really like “The Pact,” the Lifetime network created a movie version a few years back. Check out the trailer below. Happy reading! Wouldn’t you like to be back at the beach right about now? Sigh.

pact

 
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Posted by on September 19, 2012 in Uncategorized

 

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“19 Minutes” by Jodi Picoult

TEEN LIBRARIAN'S REVIEW:

"19 Minutes" is the latest novel from bestselling author Jodi Picoult, who has written such well-regarded books as "My Sister's Keeper." Although Picoult's novels are written for adults, she has a large teen audience because many of her stories focus on families and teenagers. "19 Minutes" is no exception. Here, we have the story of a school shooting at a high school in Sterling, New Hampshire. In nineteen minutes, sixteen year-old Peter Houghton, a bullied, largely friendless teen, kills ten of his classmates and wounds dozens others. One of the few people Peter spares in his rampage is his childhood best friend, the blazingly popular Josie Cormier.

As you might imagine, the shootings devastate the community at large as well as all the families involved, including Peter's and Josie's. Peter's mom, midwife Lacy, struggles to forgive her son, whom everyone views as a monster, while his dad, college professor Lewis, retreats completely. Josie's single mother, local judge Alex Cormier, fails repeatedly in her attempts to reach out to her daughter, who fainted during the shooting spree and claims to have no memory of the events. Josie is particularly distraught because her boyfriend, Matt — a cruel boy who was one of Peter's biggest tormentors — is dead.

Nothing is exactly as it seems in this story. While Peter is clearly a murderer, it's hard not to feel compassion for him after learning about his long history of being teased, taunted, abused, and humiliated by his classmates. And as the reader discovers more about Josie's relationship with Matt, her grief and heartache become both more and less difficult to understand.

There are lots of flashbacks in the story — some reaching back to before Josie's birth — that help the reader become deeply attached to these characters. As the story builds toward Peter's trial and its shocking conclusion, the reader has learned so much about each of the characters that they seem, truly, like real people. This is a detailed, long novel with very rich language and an honest, unflinching insight into teenagers' worlds. It might not be for all teens, but for high school age readers interested in a complex look at the effects of abuse and bullying, this is a great read.

 
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Posted by on May 16, 2007 in Uncategorized

 

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