Though it begins as the quietly electrifying story of an unmarried Amish teenager who gives birth to a baby she is accused of then smothering, Picoult's latest (after Keeping Faith) settles into an ordinary trial epic, albeit one centered intriguingly on an Amish dairy farm near Lancaster, Pa. Katie Fisher, 18, denies not only having committed the murder but even having borne the baby, whose body is found in the Fishers' calving pen, and she sticks to her story, even when she is quizzed by Ellie Hathaway, the high-powered Philadelphia attorney who undertakes Katie's defense as a favor to Leda, an aunt she and the young woman share. Ellie, who has retreated to Leda's farm in Paradise to reconsider her life—she successfully defends guilty clients—embarks on the case reluctantly: at 39, she wants nothing more than to have a child. However, to meet bail stipulations, she volunteers as Katie's guardian (since Kate's strict parents reject her) and moves in with the Fishers. Living with the Amish necessitates some adjustments for both parties, but Katie and Ellie become fast friends in spite of their differences. Very little action occurs beyond the initial setup, though the questions remain: Who was the father of Katie's child? And did she smother the newborn? Told from both third-person omniscient and first-person (Ellie's) vantages, the story rolls leisurely through the trial preparations, the results of which are repeated, tediously, in the courtroom. Perhaps the story's quietude is appropriate, given its magnificently painted backdrop and distinctive characters, but one can't help wishing that the spark igniting the book's opening pages had built into a full-fledged blaze.
(Audio version.) In the middle of a summer night, Amish teenager Katie Fischer goes out to the barn on her family's Lancaster County, PA, farm and gives birth to a son. Exhausted by the ordeal, she falls asleep. When she wakes up, the baby is gone. It is found hours later, covered by hay, dead. Katie is then charged with murder, which she vehemently denies. Philadelphia defense attorney Ellie Hathaway is burned out; she's had one too many sleazy clients. Her eight-year relationship with another attorney has ended, so Ellie retreats to her friend's home in Lancaster County. The friend, a former Amish church member and a cousin to the Fischers, persuades Ellie to take Katie's case. The bail bargain is that Ellie must live at the Fischer farm, where she gains an understanding of their culture, in which God is first, the community is second, and the individual is third. The book is written from both Katie's and Ellie's point of view, so the use of two narrators (Christina Moore and Suzanne Toren) emphasizes the different voices very effectively. The Pennsylvania German dialect and accented English are convincing; recommended. —Nann Blaine Hilyar
An uneven reworking of tabloid headlines: a young woman is charged with infanticide, and a hard-boiled attorney agrees to defend her. With one crucial distinction: the defendant is Amish.... All, of course, will be tidily resolved by trial's end. Despite a provocative and topical premise, and a strong opening, Picoult fails this time, her seventh, to rise above paint-by-numbers formula.
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