Picoult, Jodi 1966-

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PICOULT, Jodi 1966-

PERSONAL: Surname is pronounced "pee-koe"; born May 19, 1966, in NY; daughter of Myron Michel (a securities analyst) and Jane Ellen (a nursery school director; maiden name, Friend) Picoult; married Timothy Warren van Leer (a technical sales representative), November 18, 1989; children: Kyle Cameron, Jacob Matthew, Samantha Grace. Education: Princeton University, B.A., 1987; Harvard University, M.Ed., 1990.

ADDRESSES: Home—P.O. Box 508, Etna, NH 03750. E-mail—c/o agent Laura Gross, [email protected]

CAREER: Allyn & Bacon, Inc., Newton, MA, developmental editor, 1987-88; junior high school teacher of English and creative writing in Concord and Natick, MA, 1989-91; writer, 1991—.

AWARDS, HONORS: New England Book Award Winner for Fiction, New England Booksellers Association, 2003, for her entire body of work; Best Mainstream Fiction Novel designation, Romance Writers of America, 2003, for Second Glance.

WRITINGS:

NOVELS

Songs of the Humpback Whale, Faber & Faber (London, England), 1992.

Harvesting the Heart, Viking (New York, NY), 1994.

Picture Perfect, Putnam (New York, NY), 1995.

Mercy, Putnam (New York, NY), 1996.

The Pact: A Love Story, Morrow (New York, NY), 1998.

Keeping Faith, Morrow (New York, NY), 1999.

Plain Truth, Pocket Books (New York, NY), 2000.

Salem Falls, Pocket Books (New York, NY), 2001.

Perfect Match, Atria Books (New York, NY), 2002.

Second Glance, Atria Books (New York, NY), 2003.

My Sister's Keeper, Atria Books (New York, NY), 2004.

ADAPTATIONS: Picoult's novels The Pact and Plain Truth were adapted for television and aired on the Lifetime network, 2002 and 2004. My Sister's Keeper was optioned by Fine Line Films for theatrical release.

WORK IN PROGRESS: Vanishing Acts, expected in 2005; The Tenth Circle, expected in 2006.

SIDELIGHTS: Since her first success with Songs of the Humpback Whale in 1992, novelist Jodi Picoult has produced several other books in quick succession, often working on two books simultaneously. While she did tell an interviewer for the Allen-Unwin Web site that "I moonlight as a writer. My daylight hours are spent with my three children," her writing time has become more constant since her husband chose to be a stay-at-home dad. Picoult's themes center on women's issues, family, and relationships. According to Donna Seaman in Booklist, the author is "a writer of high energy and conviction."

Picoult's second work, Harvesting the Heart, concerns Paige O'Toole, an Irish Catholic with some artistic talent. The product of an unhappy childhood and adolescence, Paige leaves home after high school and lands a job at a diner where she sketches customers. There she meets her future husband, the egocentric Nicholas Prescott, whom she eventually puts through medical school after his parents disown him. After their first child is born, Paige becomes frustrated with the pressures of motherhood and increasingly estranged from the busy Nicholas. At the end of her patience, she decides to leave her family and seek her own mother, who left her when Paige was only five. Paige's heartwrenching decision leads her to deal with her own identity as she discovers she is not like her irresponsible mother. A happy ending ensues, with Paige returning to her family and Nicholas learning to take on more family responsibilities. A Kirkus Reviews critic found that the book had "some good writing, but not enough to sustain a concept-driven and rather old-fashioned story."

After producing Harvesting the Heart, Picoult published Picture Perfect, a study of wife abuse, and Mercy, a story dealing with euthanasia. In 1998 she published The Pact: A Love Story, a legal thriller set in a New Hampshire town. The novel concerns the Hartes and the Golds, neighbors and close friends. Their teenaged children, Chris and Emily, who grew up almost as brother and sister, become romantically involved and enter into a suicide pact. However, Chris survives and is charged with murder. After an investigation, he is jailed, and the friendship between the two families dissolves. According to a Kirkus Reviews critic, the trial scenes in The Pact are "powerful," and the novel itself is "an affecting study of obsession, loss, and some of the more wrenching varieties of guilt." Seaman, writing in Booklist, dubbed Picoult's book "a finely honed, commanding, and cathartic drama."

The author's 1999 novel, Keeping Faith, also concerns characters in a small town struggling to maintain their concepts of honesty and faith. The protagonist, Mariah White, discovers that her husband has been unfaithful and subsequently sinks into depression. Her seven-year-old daughter, Faith, is upset by her mother's behavior and begins conversing with an imaginary friend, as well as acting as if she has newfound religious powers. Their lives enter a state of increasing upheaval as more and more of the faithful and the curious come to partake of Faith's supposed healing powers. Faith's father sues for custody of the girl, and an emotional court scene ensues. Margaret Flanagan, in Booklist, called the novel "a mesmerizing morality play."

Picoult's novel Plain Truth is set in the Pennsylvania Amish country. When a dead infant is discovered in the barn of an Amish farmer, a police investigation suggests that the mother is an eighteen-year-old Amish girl and that the baby did not die of natural causes. Although the teen denies responsibility, she is arrested and charged with murder. She is defended by a Philadelphia attorney, Ellie Hathaway, who soon clashes both with the will of her client and with the cultural values of Amish society. In the process of building her client's difficult defense, Ellie discovers more and more about her own inner life and personal values, while also learning to appreciate the values of the "plain people." Many reviewers praised the novel's suspenseful plot, its characterization, and its skillful portrait of Amish culture. Knight-Ridder/Tribune News Service contributor Linda DuVal said that in Plain Truth Picoult writes with "clarity" and "depicts a simple, yet deceptively complex, society of people who share a sense of compassion and the unshakable belief in the goodness of their fellow men and women."

In My Sister's Keeper, Picoult uses her characters to explore the ramificiations of cloning and gene replacement therapy, asking whether birthing one child to save the life of another child makes one a good mother—or a very bad one. A Kirkus Reviews critic declared that in My Sister's Keeper the novelist "vividly evokes the physical and psychic toll a desperately sick child imposes on a family, even a close and loving one." Noting that there are "no easy outcomes in a tale about individual autonomy clashing with a sibling's right to life," the reviewer explained that "Picoult thwarts our expectations in unexpected ways" and dubbed My Sister's Keeper "a telling portrait" of a modern American family under stress.

Picoult once noted of her work: "I am particularly concerned with what constitutes the truth—how well we think we know the people we love and the lives we live. I also write about the intricacies of family ties and connections, which often unearth questions that have no easy answers."

BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:

PERIODICALS

Booklist, April 1, 1998, Donna Seaman, review of The Pact: A Love Story; May 15, 1999, Margaret Flanagan, review of Keeping Faith; December 15, 2002, Kristine Huntley, review of Second Glance; January 1, 2004, Kristine Huntley, review of My Sister's Keeper.

Kirkus Reviews, August 15, 1993, review of Harvesting the Heart; March 15, 1998, review of The Pact; April 15, 2002, review of Perfect Match; January 1, 2003, review of Second Glance; January 15, 2004, review of My Sister's Keeper.

Knight-Ridder/Tribune News Service, June 15, 2000, Linda DuVal, review of Plain Truth, p. K239.

Library Journal, May 1, 2002, Nancy Pear, review of Perfect Match; February 15, 2003, Diana McRae, review of Second Glance; March 15, 2004, Kim Uden Rutter, review of My Sister's Keeper.

Publishers Weekly, May 6, 2002, review of Perfect Match; February 16, 2004, review of My Sister's Keeper.

ONLINE

Allen-Unwin Web site,http://www.allen-unwin.com/ (October 2, 2000), interview with Picoult.

Jodi Picoult Web site,http://www.jodipicoult.com (August 23, 2004).*