Thursday, March 21, 2013

Book Review: The Storyteller by Jodi Picoult

Title: The Storyteller
Author: Jodi Picoult
Publisher: Atria
Publication Date: February 26, 2013
Source: bought a copy from Norwich Bookstore at her VT event on 2/26!

Plot Summary from Goodreads:

Sage Singer befriends an old man who's particularly beloved in her community. Josef Weber is everyone's favorite retired teacher and Little League coach. They strike up a friendship at the bakery where Sage works. One day he asks Sage for a favor: to kill him. Shocked, Sage refuses…and then he confesses his darkest secret - he deserves to die, because he was a Nazi SS guard. Complicating the matter? Sage's grandmother is a Holocaust survivor.

What do you do when evil lives next door? Can someone who's committed a truly heinous act ever atone for it with subsequent good behavior? Should you offer forgiveness to someone if you aren't the party who was wronged? And most of all - if Sage even considers his request - is it murder, or justice?

My Review:

I know, I know.  You're all tired of me waxing poetic about Jodi Picoult's novels.  But hear me out!  Because I just finished her newest one, and yes, I loved it...but I think you will too.

I will admit that, going in, I was feeling a little ambivalent about the topic.  I mentioned in my recent review of The Thief of Auschwitz that I am always unsure how fiction authors will be able to take on the Holocaust in a way that is original, and thus worthwhile for the reader.  I'm not trying to say they shouldn't write about it (I think it's important to do so, to continue sharing the experience of those victimized).  But it's fiction, not nonfiction--so the author does have some responsibility for putting a unique twist or angle on it in order to keep the interest of the reader.  Not easy with a subject that's been tackled so many times.

However, this book is in three parts, with the second part told from the POV of Minka, Sage's grandmother and a Holocaust survivor.  And within a few pages of starting Minka's narrative, I knew this was not a repeat of novels past.  As you would expect from this subject, Minka's story is simply horrific, and Picoult glosses over nothing.  There were times that I had to put the book aside for a while and take a breather before returning.  And the truly horrible thing is, having attended the author's tour event last month, I knew that most of these hideous events were NOT fictional.  Picoult interviewed many Holocaust survivors and used parts of their actual stories as events in the novel (she recounted them at the event and then I later recognized them in the book).  Knowing that made it all the more heart-wrenching to read, and lent an air of truth to this fictional tale.

As expected from any Picoult novel, the book is full of moral and ethical questions.  Do we all have good and evil within us?  How does one reign over the other?  And if someone practices more evil than good, does that make it okay to hurt them back?  Can you ever forgive them, or yourself?  It gives you a lot to contemplate, and to make it more intriguing, you have a lot of angles to contemplate from.  There is Sage and Josef's story, but then you also get Minka's POV, as well as a side story that she wrote in her childhood.  All of these perspectives are essentially attacking the same questions, but as a reader, it gives you a fuller understanding of the moral ambivalence of the novel.  And Picoult does a wonderful job intersecting all of these views throughout the book, leaving you guessing about what direction it will eventually take.

If you've read any JP novels before, you're probably wondering--is there a big twist at the end?  She is certainly known for that.  There is a that is still sticking in my brain and making me replay the novel in my mind quite a bit.  I won't say it's completely unpredictable (you get the sense that something is afoot once Part 3 begins, and I kind of figured it out a few pages before it was revealed), but it's not blatant either.  Certainly leaves you wanting to devour the last third of the book, that's for sure.

My one complaint about this one?  Too many current event/technology references!  I feel like Picoult was trying way too hard to make her book "hip" and contemporary by throwing these things in willy-nilly.  Constant reference to iPhones, Flip cameras (aren't they outdated already?), FiOS, Snooki, was a bit much, and is going to make this book sound extremely dated in about 5 years time.  I've never noticed this in her other novels and I'm not sure why she went in that direction here (it really wasn't necessary given the topic at hand).  It didn't ruin the novel by any means, but it was very noticeable.

My final verdict: this book was outstanding, up there on my list of Picoult faves.  She handles an often-used historical event with amazing accuracy and sensitivity, while also weaving a complex tale that will leave you stuck to the book and wishing your son would nap for just five more minutes, for heaven's sake, because you only have 10 pages left.  Not that I would know anything about that.  It's just an example.  The point is, READ IT!

Other reviews of The Storyteller:
So Many Books, So Little Time
...But Books Are Better
All The Books I Can Read

Have you read any other Holocaust-centric novels that really moved you?


  1. This book really stayed with me, too. Especially Minka's story. It's funny that you mention the technology references because I didn't really notice that at all....

    1. Minka's part was truly amazing...definitely the highlight of the book for me. Not sure why the technology stuff jumped out to me so much, I'm curious if anyone else picked up on that.

  2. I'm a sensitive reader and not sure if I can make it through the horrific Holocaust details. It took me a long time to pick up Sarah's Key.

    1. Yes, if that's the case, this one might be a difficult read for you. I haven't read Sarah's Key yet, but I've heard several people say it was a tough one too.

  3. Great review. I loved this book so much and I think Minka's POV was the most moving part of it. I haven't been a huge Jodi Picoult fan but I am going to have to pick up more of her books after this.

    1. I'd love to hear your thoughts on any other ones you pick up!

  4. I tend to forget how much I love Jodi Picoult's writing, because she tackles such difficult themes, so thanks for reminding me. Adding this to my to-read list, for sure.

    1. Glad I could remind you :) Can't wait to hear what you think!

  5. Picoult takes a lot of slamming, poor girl. But I tell you what, her books never fail to make me question, learn, CRY. ;) So yes, I'll be getting to this one! Great review Kelly!

    1. Yeah, she really does. I think people either love her stuff, or they don't. It does follow a "formula" at times, which I know turns some people off. I hope you love this one!

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