Spark of Light (Picoult)

A Spark of Light  
Jodi Picoult, 2018
Random House

384 pp.
ISBN-13:
9780345544988


Summary
A powerful and provocative new novel about ordinary lives that intersect during a heart-stopping crisis.

The warm fall day starts like any other at the Center—a women’s reproductive health services clinic—its staff offering care to anyone who passes through its doors.

Then, in late morning, a desperate and distraught gunman bursts in and opens fire, taking all inside hostage.

After rushing to the scene, Hugh McElroy, a police hostage negotiator, sets up a perimeter and begins making a plan to communicate with the gunman. As his phone vibrates with incoming text messages he glances at it and, to his horror, finds out that his fifteen-year-old daughter, Wren, is inside the clinic.

But Wren is not alone. She will share the next and tensest few hours of her young life with a cast of unforgettable characters:

  • A nurse who calms her own panic in order to save the life of a wounded woman.
  • A doctor who does his work not in spite of his faith but because of it, and who will find that faith tested as never before.
  • A pro-life protester, disguised as a patient, who now stands in the crosshairs of the same rage she herself has felt.
  • A young woman who has come to terminate her pregnancy. And the disturbed individual himself, vowing to be heard.

Told in a daring and enthralling narrative structure that counts backward through the hours of the standoff, this is a story that traces its way back to what brought each of these very different individuals to the same place on this fateful day.

One of the most fearless writers of our time, Jodi Picoult tackles a complicated issue in this gripping and nuanced novel. How do we balance the rights of pregnant women with the rights of the unborn they carry? What does it mean to be a good parent?

A Spark of Light will inspire debate, conversation … and, hopefully, understanding. (From the publisher.)



Author Bio
Birth—May 19, 1966
Where—Nesconset (Long Island), New York, USA
Education—B.A., Princeton University; M.Ed., Harvard University
Currently—lives in Hanover, New Hampshire


Jodi Lynn Picoult is an American author. She was awarded the New England Bookseller Award for fiction in 2003. Picoult currently has approximately 14 million copies of her books in print worldwide.

Early life and education
Picoult was born and raised in Nesconset on Long Island in New York State; when she was 13, her family moved to New Hampshire. Even as a child, Picoult had a penchant for writing stories: she wrote her first story— "The Lobster Which Misunderstood"—when she was five.

While still in college—she studied writing at Princeton University—Picoult published two short stories in Seventeen magazine. To pay the bills, after graduation she worked at a variety of jobs, including copy writing and editing textbooks; she even taught eighth-grade English and attained a Masters in Education from Harvard University.

In 1989, Picoult married Timothy Warren Van Leer, whom she met in college, and while pregnant with their first child, wrote her first book. Song of the Humpbacked Whale, her literary debut, came out in 1992. Two more children followed, as did a string of bestseller novels. All told, Picoult has more than 20 books to her name.

Writing
At an earlier time in her life, Picoult believed the tranquility of family life in small-town New England offered little fodder for writing; the truly interesting stuff of fiction happened elsewhere. Ironically, it is small-town life that has ended up providing the settings for Picoult's novels. Within the cozy surroundings of family and friends, Picoult weaves complex webs of relationships that strain, even tear apart, under stress. She excels at portraying ordinary people who find themselves in extraordinary circumstances. Disoriented by some accident of chance, they stumble, whirl, and attempt to regain a footing in what was once their calm, ordered world.

Nor has Picoult ever shied from tackling difficult, controversial issues: school shooting, domestic violence, sexual abuse, teen suicide, and racism. She approaches painful topics with sympathy—and her characters with respect—while shining a light on individual struggles. Her legions of readers have loved and rewarded her for that compassion—and her novels have been consistent bestsellers.

Personal life
Picoult and her husband Timothy live in Hanover, New Hampshire. They have three children and a handful of pets. (Adapted from a 2003 Barnes and Noble interview and from Wikipedia. Retrieved 9/28/2016.)



Book Reviews
Picoult at her fearless best.… Timely, balanced and certain to inspire debate.
Washington Post


The author presents the white-knuckled narrative in a reverse-chronological order. The effect is mesmerizing, as Picoult establishes moments in the overarching event, before revealing how they came to be.
Houston Chronicle


Drama abounds in Picoult’s latest issue-driven novel…. Picoult’s extensive research shines throughout, but the book’s reverse chronological structure interferes with the complicated back stories…. Nevertheless, this is a powerful story that brings clarity to the history of abortion.
Publishers Weekly


(Starred review) Picoult has achieved what politicians across the spectrum have not been able to: humanized a hot-button issue. Excellent for book clubs, this should also be considered for discussions in critical thinking and political debate. —Julie Kane, Washington & Lee Lib., Lexington, VA
Library Journal


(Starred review) Picoult delivers another riveting yarn …in this carefully crafted, utterly gripping tale.
Booklist


At times, Picoult defaults to her habitual sentimentality…. Novels such as this extensively researched and passionate polemic are not necessarily art, but, like Sinclair Lewis’ The Jungle, they are necessary.
Kirkus Reviews



Discussion Questions
1. The story is narrated from the points of view of ten different characters. Why do you think the author chose to include so many different perspectives? Was there a voice that you connected to most strongly? Did you have difficulty connecting with any characters?

2. Regardless of their feelings on the issue of abortion, many characters are preoccupied with being a good parent. Why do you think it means to be a good parent?

3. Initially, Joy and Janine seem to stand on opposite sides of the pro-life/pro-choice debate. By the end, do you think they have found common ground? Do you understand where each one is coming from? Is it possible to form a connection with someone with opposing viewpoints and still maintain a commitment to one’s own beliefs?

4. At one point, Rachel, the employee who escaped from the Center, accuses Allen and his fellow protestors of being responsible for the hostage crisis situation: "If people like you didn’t spout the bullshit you do, people like him wouldn’t exist." Is this a fair accusation? Is there a point at which one does not have the right to voice one’s beliefs? If so, where should that line be drawn?

5. Did your feelings about the issue of abortion evolve during the reading of this novel, and, if so, how?

6. By the end of the book, we discover that these characters’ lives are interwoven in more ways than one and that each individual has a deeper story than we expected. Were you surprised by any of the interconnections? Which twist struck you the most strongly?

7. Did anything about Jodi’s research surprise you? What did you learn?

8. Did Jodi’s Author Note change your reading experience at all?

9. A Spark of Light is different than the traditional novel structure. How did you feel about the events of the story unfolding backwards? Did this structure affect your reading experience?
(Questions issued by the publishers.)

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