A SPARK OF LIGHT - by Jodi Picoult

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Published: October 2018 - Ballantine Books.
Genres: Adult / contemporary / women's fiction.
Pages: 352.
Triggers/Content Advisory: Violence / graphic descriptions / triggering themes / one explicit rape scene.
Format: Paperback.
Source: Thank you so much to Jonathan Ball SA for sending me this book in exchange for an honest review. I voluntarily read & reviewed this copy. All thoughts are my own.

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 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 cross hairs 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. 

This wasn't an easy book to read, nor is it an easy book to review. I always try to keep my reviews balanced and objective, but in this case it's hard.

A Spark of Light is the first Picoult book I've ever read. I was intimidated - very much so - because she hits the NYT bestseller list every time and is so well-known and popular. That said, I'm pleased to report that I enjoyed her writing! Her prose is elegant, each line deftly pieced together, and she manages to be unassuming while still lacing her words with a strong point of view. I know Picoult is known for writing objectively when it comes to heavy topics, but there's still that undercurrent of personal opinion. And it's to be expected, I suppose.     

The plot gave me mixed feelings. Up until page 100, I was bored. I was also confused. After page 100, things finally do pick up and get easier to follow, but throughout the novel the timeline is always an issue; Picoult traces the events backwards, at the rate of about 70 pages, so we end up going back in time and to the incidents that led up to the hostage crisis. Personally, I found the plot difficult to follow. Since you're going back in time and from about seven different perspectives, it's a lot to take in at only 70 pages per time. A large cast and lots of backstory don't often work well when the timeline is going backwards. It doesn't with this novel.

 This is what it means to be human, Bex thought. We are all just canvases for our scars. 

In terms of the story itself, I wasn't blown away. It moves slowly, steadily, and it's extremely character-driven. Actually, you could say that the story itself is repetitive; it's honestly the characters who are getting the spotlight. I don't have a problem with that, but the timeline does make it hard to enjoy since I was confused for the majority of the novel. I only became invested after page 100.

The characters' stories are more convincing than their personalities. No one made an impression on me, and their personalities never come to life. However, I loved getting a glimpse into their pasts and the reasons they came to the Centre. I found that much more entertaining and fascinating than the characters' interactions with each other.
The cast is also big, which works against the novel. No one's personality is clear from their first introduction, and I spent most of the story not knowing what each person was like. It takes a long time for things to come together, and even then their voices aren't distinct. 

Picoult is writing about something extremely controversial, which, apparently, (I had to do some research) is nothing new for her. I love how transparent and unflinching she is when it comes to examining the subject of abortion, and how she brings together different perspectives and different characters each with their own convictions.
Picoult herself is pro-choice, so while she manages to keep the novel generally objective, by the end her own bias is clear. I would definitely say that she chooses to favour the pro-choice argument and that the pro-choice characters are cast in a more positive light. That does annoy me, because ultimately it presents a slanted argument, but in the end it is her book and her bias is inevitably going to come through. 

A Spark of Light is a extraordinarily written story that unfolds with finesse.  Through heartbreaking transparency, Picoult makes you think, and her characters' stories hold everything together. 
But the timeline is frustrating.