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by Jodi Picoult
Hodder and Stoughton, April 2006
448 pages
ISBN: 0340835516

Buy in the UK | Buy in Canada

Jodi Picoult displays her customary insights into the family and love of all kinds in this outing. This time she examines situations that could well destroy a family did they not own the essential element of love. She paints a wonderful portrait of a father who knows only too well the gut-wrenching, savage, protective love a parent has for his child. And she incorporates a murder mystery as well as a graphic novel within which there is a puzzle for observant readers.

The prologue depicts the awakening of a stay-at-home dad to the full depth of the love he holds for his daughter when Trixie, as a small child, briefly disappears

Daniel Stone, raised a misfit in the inhospitable climate of Alaska, was ostracised by all but one of his Yupiit contemporaries. He grew up violent, thieving and resentful then, after the death of his friend Cane, aged 15, escaped south, never to return. Eking out a living with his art, he meets, falls in love with, impregnates and marries Laura, a girl who is attracted to his wild ways. Daniel renounces his former ways, becoming a model father, raising daughter Trixie while Laura, an academic, specialises in teaching Dante's Divine Comedy.

Laura loses interest in Daniel and discovers other entertainment which defies the principles she has striven to uphold. A chance tragedy within her family makes her rethink her behaviour and her love.

Daniel has become very successful as a comic book artist. He is now producing an episode entitled THE TENTH CIRCLE featuring his superhero The Immortal Wildclaw in an adventure inspired both by his wife's favourite literature and his own life. Pages from the graphic novel appear interspersed amongst the chapters of the real novel as the tale proceeds.

Trixie, now aged 14, finds herself dumped after a three-month liaison with hockey star Jason, and has to watch as her former love woos another girl. Desperate to find an escape from pain, she turns to self-mutilation. She also takes to heart the words of her friend, Zephyr, who advises Trixie to flirt with other boys at a party and indulge in wild games that will serve to make Jason jealous. Attempting to follow orders, Trixie becomes ill but when the other party-goers depart, Trixie and Jason are two of the remaining four people. Then the unthinkable occurs.

Picoult deals with the horror of teenage rape in a particularly sensitive manner. She depicts the all too probable reactions of young people in a way that cannot fail to move: who would their contemporaries favour in such a situation? The sports star or the younger girl? The abuse and ostracism heaped on the twice victimised girl are abominable. The lies that she tells as she feels incapable of confessing the truth in front of her father when questioned by police are made to seem completely justifiable.

The characterisations, for the most part, are wonderfully done. One character, Detective Mike Bartholomew, a man who is certainly familiar with pain occasioned by much loved but wayward daughters, could be welcomed by readers should he make an appearance in later books.

As to the party games which apparently delight American teenagers these days, perhaps the least said about them the better, although Picoult, in her acknowledgements, pays tribute to three teenagers who advised her, so they must be based in reality. Perhaps parents need to pay closer attention to what their daughters are doing when they go out.

The descriptions of Alaska are very evocative. So many of us are unlikely ever to visit this wilderness but the way the Yupiit people are portrayed make the voyage seem worthwhile.

This wonderful, sensitive yet exciting tale can only augment Jodi Picoult's already impressive reputation as an author.

Reviewed by Denise Pickles, March 2006

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Contact: Yvonne Klein (ymk@reviewingtheevidence.com)

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