Jodi Picoult, “My Sister’s Keeper”

My Sister’s Keeper tells the story of a thirteen-year-old named Anna Fitzgerald, who sues her parents for medical emancipation. Referred to as “a savior sister,” Anna believes she was born because her older sister Kate was diagnosed with acute promyelocytic leukemia and needed regular blood and marrow donations. Anna and Kate also have an older brother named Jesse, who is absent from large parts of the novel and spends most of his life feeling ignored. While Anna’s donations sustain Kate’s life initially, Kate’s cancer never truly goes away. Anna hires a lawyer and petitions for medical emancipation prior to a kidney transplant surgery. It is later revealed that Kate asked Anna to sue because she was ready to die and was tired of constant surgeries taking over her life. There are several points of tension between Anna and her parents, as her mother cannot easily see Kate’s wishes the way that Anna can. A key theme of the book is the right to one’s own body and, importantly, how consent is considered for a younger child. The points of contention in the novel stem from deciding at what point and time a child’s rights overrule a parent’s decision when it comes to medical care. The strained relationship between Anna and her mother seeps into struggles Kate faces in being able to tell her mother she wants to die. The novel delves into the ethical issues of the right to life and suicide. My Sister’s Keeper was published by Atria Books in 2003 and Washington Square Press in 2005. It received many awards, including The Gold Book Award from Nielsen Bookscan UK, the Virginia Readers’ Choice Award, and the American Library Association’s Margaret Alexander Edwards Award by ALA. In 2009, it was adapted into a motion picture starring Cameron Diaz and Abigail Breslin.

The novel has been challenged and banned repeatedly, accused of having inappropriate displays of drug, violence, suicide, offensive language, sexually explicit behaviors, and homosexuality. In 2008, the novel was challenged in Clawson, Michigan, for being too racy for middle school students. The specific case involved a mother who found the book inappropriate for her daughter to read for an assignment. Mainly concerned about the offensive language and sex education, the mother brought her concerns to a committee who removed the book as an assignment. As a result, the novel was banned in all schools in the Clawson area and was removed from the classroom curriculum. In 2009, a challenge in Illinois claimed the novel’s depiction of sexism and homosexuality were unsuitable for middle school and high school students, though there were no direct consequences from this challenge. In 2010, there were also many reported challenges based on the way the novel depicts drugs, suicide, violence, sexism, and religious viewpoints.

Jodi Picoult responded to reports of her books being banned in The Washington Post. She described her writing as an expression of understanding the answers to hard moral and ethical questions that she herself does not know the answer to. She considers herself an unorthodox writer but defends her books as realistic. She has written several other novels, many of which have been challenged in schools. Two of those most controversial are The Pact and Vanishing Acts.

About the Author

Jodi Picoult is an American author born in Long Island, New York. She wrote her first story at the age of five and moved to New Hampshire at age thirteen, the setting of many of her later written novels. Picoult attended Princeton University for undergraduate studies in creative writing and later pursued a Master’s Degree in Education from Harvard University. As a student, Picoult published two stories in Seventeen magazine and even later wrote for DC Comics Wonder Woman. Over the course of her career, Picoult has written almost 24 novels and many were turned into films. Today, Jodi Picoult remains an esteemed and lauded author.

Further Reading

Banned Book Week 2010: The Top 10 Most Challenged Titles @ Huffington Post

Kaylie Wilson’s Banned Books Project

Illinois Library Association’s Books Banned or Challenged in 2008-2009

My Sister’s Keeper @ Jodi Picoult’s Website

Why I Write Banned Books by Jodi Picoult