Captivating from the first few pages, Jodi Picoult’s most recent novel “a spark of light” is intense, thought provoking, and dynamic. The story, which predominantly takes place at an abortion clinic in Mississippi, tackles the heavily opinionated debate on the moment in which a life becomes a life and how that relates to the option to end it. Picoult has meticulously done her research on abortion, presenting both sides to the unsolvable debate in an educated, fact stating manner. Though the opinions of the characters on the subject are ever present, and in some cases ever changing, they are presented in a manner that is so undeniably human, it is easy to see, hear, and even understand all sides of the debate. The novel is bursting with educated information and questions intended to pick at your thoughts and put yourself in the shoes of those involved, getting the reader actively engaged in the debate. At times uncomfortably graphic, the author describes abortion in grave particular, detailing the physical components and appearance of an aborted fetus at different weeks of conception, allowing the reader to further develop an opinion on the controversy.
The main action of the novel, a high-stake hostage situation, takes place over a ten-hour time frame. The chapters, titled by the hour in which they take place, start at 5pm and work backwards until the last at 8am. The epilogue, occurs at 6pm. Her choice of telling the story backwards leads to a successful hook from the first chapter as we are instantly let in on the life changing action that has transpired for the characters. The subsequent chapters are a page turning adventure to find out how the action came to be. The pace of the novel alternates between fast and slow. When the present-day action occurs, the pace is fast and electric. Then Picoult effectively manages to slow the pace down by delving back into the characters’ past to set up their unique story, their dimension. The mix and contrast between the two is exceptional.
The multi-dimensional characters created in “a spark of light” are both intriguing and identifiable. With no shortage of character development, the reader is introduced to each character with thorough, individual attention, paving the way for relatability and profound comprehension. We intimately come to know about their partners, pasts, and pregnancies. We see their journey, how they came to be who they are, and how they ended up in the abortion clinic on that day. The characters themselves represent the array of different sides in the abortion debate. We are presented with Dr. Ward who performs the abortions, and the nurse Izzy who is debating her own pregnancy. We meet young Wren who isn’t even at the center for an abortion, and Joy who is. And we met the loved ones, their fathers, their aunts, their partners, the unexpected stakeholders. But most importantly, we meet a defeated and devastated George Goddard who is so overcome by his own daughter’s abortion; he feels there is no other option than to hold people accountable. The characters all present their views on the central theme of abortion, some in favor of a choice, and some in favor of a “life.” But even in the array of for and against view-points, there is fascinating grey area, ambiguity, and exception. An element that successfully gives so much life and humanity to the characters. On top of the relevance the characters provide to the debate, we are taken on a journey through the importance they have to each other. The way they intertwine and intersect is creative, pulsating, and on occasion, shocking. In this, Picoult’s latest novel, there is no shortage of action and thought-provoking material. The piece is intelligent, educated, emotional, and riveting. With “a spark of light,” Jodi Picoult has created an engaged and compelling piece that is well worth the read.