BY ROB CLINE
I admit I’m behind the curve when it comes to the work of Jodi Picoult. I first encountered her a couple years back when her publicist sent me, unsolicited, a copy of her eleventh novel, My Sister’s Keeper. One of the obvious upsides of being a book reviewer is that folks send me books—both books I’ve requested and books I haven’t. I make an effort to take a look at everything I’m sent. It seems the least I can do.
But I remember when My Sister’s Keeper arrived. My reviewing schedule was jam-packed, I’d never heard of the author, and a quick read of the back cover copy inspired this uncharitable thought: chick lit.
Now, don’t send me letters. “Chick lit” is, of course, shorthand for a certain kind of book. Finding a solid definition of the term is a slippery endeavor that could surely get me in scads of trouble. Whenever I use the term, I have in mind the kind of book a friend of mine—a woman, I hasten to note—says costs her IQ points when she reads it. There is an equivalent category of books aimed at men, but no snappy nickname for the genre.
At any rate, I set My Sister’s Keeper aside. Not too long after that, however, I noticed that my aforementioned friend was reading a Picoult novel. Turns out, she’s a huge fan. This was my first inkling of the nature of Picoult’s fan base, which I would learn over time is huge.
So, when I discovered that Picoult would be appearing at Barnes & Noble in Cedar Rapids in March, I made a note that I wanted to review the new book. Through the kindness of my contact at the store, I acquired a copy of Nineteen Minutes and dove into the story of a school shooting and its causes and aftermath.
I made it through 28 of the book’s 455 pages.
I didn’t abandon the book because I didn’t like it. Though I tend to be leery of “issue books,” my early opinion was that I was probably going to like the novel quite a bit. But my editor at, ahem, another publication did something he’d never done before: He called me off the review. He was penning his own sizeable piece on the book and didn’t think he’d have room for my review. Reluctantly, I set the book aside in favor of my next assignment.
But I went to the reading. It was absolutely packed, with folks filling the 50 or so available seats and pouring into the aisles. Maybe 300 people turned out to hear Picoult, the vast majority of them women—though the author suggested that about half of her fan letters come from men and that we “shouldn’t judge this crowd by its genitalia.”
Throughout the evening, as she read (from the same pages I had managed to get through), answered questions, and signed book after book, she was gracious, humble, funny, and compelling.
When it was finally my turn to have my book signed, I asked her about a recent project outside the scope of her usual work, but which I was fairly confident I could squeeze into my reading schedule: She has written five issues of the latest incarnation of the “Wonder Woman” comic book series. I asked her if it was appropriate for my 10-year-old son—she assured me that Wonder Woman is “bodacious” and my son would love her, which was perhaps not as reassuring as she intended—and how much “back story” I would need to understand her story. With a huge grin, she filled me in on a couple of key plot points. It was clear that she’d had great fun with the project.
Only the first of the five issues has hit the comic shops as of this writing, but the previews of upcoming issues suggest that a major war between the Amazons and the United States is in the offing. It’s too early to tell whether the storytelling skills that make her a successful novelist, as well as her penchant for exploring hot-button issues, transfer to the iconic world of Wonder Woman.
Well written and visually engaging—at one point we see a person reading Nineteen Minutes—the first issue is enjoyable, if a bit confusing for a person who hasn’t been keeping up on the details of the DC universe. I guarantee, however, that any person who picks up the comic books after attending the reading will be unable to look at Wonder Woman without hearing Picoult’s sensible comment about the superhero’s signature outfit: “Any woman knows that if you’re going to fight crime, you gotta have straps.”