Two different friends lent me books recently, of the novels-you-have-to-read-quickly variety, both by Jodi Picoult. I finished My Sister’s Keeper about a month ago, and then I whipped through The Pact and finished it the Sunday before Ash Wednesday. I’m a pretty fast reader, but these books were the sort that made me read even faster than normal. But even as I found myself riveted, I was also rather squeamish.

You see, in these two books, Picoult examines tough topics (I think that’s the kind of writer she is). These books made me really think about how fiction is such a wonderful – and powerful – vehicle for examining tough topics. (I got started thinking about it back when Julie posted about the role of science fiction, and then again when she posted about story vs. sermon in the Philip Pullman books.)

In My Sister’s Keeper, the reader is taken through a journey that examines “designer babies” – through the eyes of the girl who was created – genetically mixed, perhaps? – in order to serve as a donor for her older sister, who had a rare form of childhood cancer. It was not easy reading. It wasn’t even really pleasant readings. I mean, I’ve seen my share of family difficulties in my own life; why read about them? Well, I’ll tell you why. Because we can look at the facts, we can examine the impacts, but the STORY OF REAL PEOPLE (or, in this case, hypothetically real people) is what makes the issues turn into something that matter.

In The Pact, we see an examination of teen suicide, and part of the story is told from the point-of-view of the survivor and another part through the eyes of the girl who died. If I was squirming my way through My Sister’s Keeper, I was seriously out of the chair with this one. Picoult weaves things that I relate with – I may be ancient in the eyes of a 17-year-old, but I so well remember how death could seem better than life. Now, granted, she throws in twists and turns that I didn’t experience in my life, but the feelings, the raw outlook, the black-and-white “this is the only solution” mentality…yeah, I remember that. Do you?

I don’t know if I recommend these books. I almost didn’t post a review, except for the giving-back-and-talking-about-it conversations I had with both friends. These were uncomfortable books to read, but they inspired conversations that we wouldn’t have had otherwise. They put a perspective to some issues that I’ve thought about, but not in that way. And THAT made them worth my time. THAT made them worth the discomfort.

If you read them, let me know what you think.