Tuesday, August 11, 2009

My Sister's Keeper Review

I’ve been meaning to write about this book since the moment that I saw the movie trailer…but I’m glad that I didn’t . After seeing the movie, I am filled with thoughts and emotions that I didn’t have with the book, or were renewed. It was a very well done movie and although it deviates from the book in one key point, I felt that point was actually an improvement on the story. I’ll discuss that at the end so that you can avoid it if you haven’t seen the movie or read the book!

The book, by Jodi Picoult, is what I consider her second best work, Nineteen Minutes being the absolute most amazing thing that she has ever written. My mother urged me to read Nineteen Minutes so that she could talk about it, and I was a Jodi Picoult fan from the very start. She is an intelligent, intuitive, and well educated woman, and this shows in her books. They are insightful and always based on a storyline that makes you question your beliefs and values.

My Sister’s Keeper is centered on an 11 year old girl that has been a virtual spare parts replacement for her sister, who suffers from a rare form of Leukemia. She was genetically engineered to be the perfect match for Kate, and conceived solely to save her. Despite their best efforts, the cord blood is not enough to spare Kate, and so, a lifetime of donations begins. Blood, bone marrow, and finally, they are asking for a kidney. At this point, Anna seeks medical emancipation from her parents, suing for the right to determine what will be done to her own body.

Although they were unable to fully represent all of the complexities offered in the book, the movie did a good job of showing the strain that this places on the entire family. Kate has suffered the agony and indignity of cancer, but the rest of the family has suffered equally as much.

Anna, of course, has been the child who was born to save her sister, something that is proving to be more difficult than they originally thought. She is never asked if she would like to do this, and in fact, they hold her down when she is a small child. Does she have the right to decide for herself whether or not she will help her sister? Is she beholden to do so? Or are her parents in a position to decide this?

Sara, the mother, has devoted her entire life to keeping Kate alive at any cost. Any. I guess that you can see what I think of her.

Brian, the father, has tried to keep his family on an even keel all of these years, watching Sara fight the dragons that beset their daughter. It is intimated that he has lost his ‘first love’, as the marriage is strained. Understandably so.

There is an older brother, also. He is troubled and rebellious, testing the limits at all times. Jesse has always been the sibling that couldn’t help his sister. He gets lost in the shuffle, and even when he is ‘bad’, he is ignored. Deep down, he’s a good kid, though, and loves his family.

I think that the only thing that this family has going for it is love, which is almost unbelieveable in the circumstances presented. It speaks to the deep relationships that they must have had before the chaos began.

The things that I questioned as I read the book and watched the movie were what I would do in this situation. God forbid I ever have to find out! No one should have to see their child struggle as Kate does. I would like to think, however, that I would have asked Anna for her help, and that I would not have forgotten my son.

When I was on bedrest three hours from home when Todd was born, that was the most difficult part. I had two other children who needed me, who needed attention. I was stuck in a hospital bed, so far away, and seldom got to see them. I tried to keep in contact via phone and IM, and stayed interested and involved in what they were doing. It became more difficult after Todd’s birth and subsequent NICU stay, as I spent 12 hours a day at the hospital with him. I reminded myself that it was only for a short time. But I still made time for the other boys, or at least I tried. It may have been short bursts of time, such as when we went to dinner when they were visiting, but I tried to make it focused attention. It’s not easy, I can assure you. But I’d like to believe that I would be able to do this even with the long term illness of a child.

The second question that I had to ask myself is how far I would go to save a child. Again, my children are everything to me, and I feel that I would move heaven and earth to do so. But could I sacrifice one for the other? Could I expect one to give up their own life to potentially save the life of another…when that is not even guaranteed? What is the big picture?

The character that I felt the most sorrow for was Jesse. Although Anna endured medical procedures and physical pain to help her sister, she received attention because she was the one who could help Kate. (not a good reason to be valued, but at least she was valued) Jesse had nothing. He could not do a thing to help Kate. He was simply forgotten.

I was impressed with the actors. Cameron Diaz as Sarah was a stretch in my mind, prior to seeing the movie. She carried it off well, however, and I finally felt like I could take her seriously as an actress. (personal political statements aside) The same could be said of Joan Cusack, who was beautiful as the judge who hears the case. It was the first time that I’d seen her in any serious and substantial role, and she was fantastic. It was hard to see both of these women, who are approximately my age, in roles as mothers and middle aged women. (when did that sneak up on me??) The final blow as Jason Patric (of the sexy vampire movie of the 80’s, The Lost Boys) as Brian. He was very good, and we are old. Let’s just face it.

Abigail Breslin was fine as Anna, although the movie did not showcase her. Jesse was played by Evan Ellingson, a new face to me. He did a good job of showing the love that he had the for the family, as well as his troubled thought process.

The real star of the show was unequivocably Sofia Vassilieva as Kate. She was appropriately in pain, in anguish, and yet hopeful all at once. She shaved her head for the role, and was seen looking devastatingly unpretty. (kudos to the makeup folks, as well, who transformed her into a pathetic, scarred creature!) At an age when beauty is tantamount to personal image, she allowed herself to be seen in the most hideous of circumstances. I cannot say enough about her performance! She was brilliant, and reminded me much of Molly RIngwald. I’d have thought her to be a relative, as she had facial expressions and mannerisms that reinforced the physical similarities.

My vote is for Sofia to win something major for her role. Anybody listening??

Now I’m going to mention the plot point that changed from written word to screen. So if you do not want to know…stop reading now!


The ending of the book gave Anna her emancipation, placing her medical decisions in the hands of her attorney. Traveling home after the trial, they are in a car accident that kills Anna. The attorney then donates her kidney to Kate, who is miraculously healed by this kidney.

I hated this ending for many reasons. First of all, it was unexpected and I was devastated. Secondly, it seemed unbelieveable that after all that had been done to save Kate…and the knowledge that she was both too weak for the kidney surgery and not likely to be healed by it, anyway…that she is saved by this donation. I was upset that after all that she had done to save her sister, all that she had gone through to give her sister what she wanted…Anna still sacrificed everything.

Mostly, though, I was angry because in the end, Sarah got what she wanted. Kate lived, and Anna was merely spare parts. I felt that Sarah had never truly connected with Anna, and that if she had to choose one child to live over another, it was a done deal.

The movie ends differently, but no less sadly. In the movie, Kate is allowed to express her desire to be DONE, and then she dies peacefully. Anna is granted emancipation…not that it matters now, anyway…but it has accomplished what Kate had asked for. Life goes on. They are sad. They miss Kate. They look for answers, and there aren’t any.

It was REAL. (Sorry, Jodi)

Tears flowed freely throughout the movie, which had an excellent score. I left feeling sorrowful, and yet, uplifted. Odd. Definitely a ‘thinker’ movie…the best kind.

Well, what would YOU do?


  1. You know I didn't like the book overall. I hadn't thought of the ending being like you described it, but I totally agree with your assessment. I was more caught up in the moment of the crash ~ the dad finding her, the shock of her death.
    Your question as to how much would we do to save a child is one we have discussed here among the grown-ups in the house. Our attitude that death is not the worst thing leads us to think that we might be some who draw the line earlier than others would. Of course we pray to never have to know, and believe in the miracle of medical intervention and the technology we can be blessed by. We certainly already have been blessed!
    I had Nineteen Minutes to read, but then our bookclub moved on to something else. Might have to pick it up again...
    Thanks for your thoughts!

  2. You bring up a very good point...we have the added comfort of knowing that death is not the end. It is not the worst thing in the world. I think that it would be devastating to lose a child, or any loved one, without that knowledge. We also know that we can pray to know WHEN to draw the line. There is such great peace in knowing that you have done all that is expected of you, and that you can joyfully allow them to leave. I have no idea how anyone lives without that comfort of the Holy Ghost!