Vanishing Acts by Jodi Picoult – Book Review

Jodi Picoult’s novels are my comfort reading, probably in the same way Agatha Christie’s crime novels are. By all rights I should find them overly sentimental and cloying, but there’s just something fundamentally likable, cosy and wholesome about her style – even when she writes about murder, incest or prison rape – and her strong sense of family and friendship is always very appealing.

Picoult’s penchant for a shocking ending doesn’t always work out and her particular writing ticks can get tiresome over a long run; how many times can you read yet another cutesy list of personal quirks and preferences that make a character soooo speshooool? Despite that, I’ve enjoyed most of her books, and while this one is not top-shelf it was still a good read.

Like many Picoult books the story is told from different perspectives, but the main character is Delia Hopkins, who lives with her fiance and a young daughter in New Hampshire, and has a fairly unusual occupation of finding missing persons with the help of her bloodhound. Through a chain of events that involve Delia’s flashbacks of her past life which don’t quite add up, her world comes crashing down when her father Andrew is arrested for kidnapping his daughter almost 30 years ago from her mother’s custody.

He’s taken back for trial to Arizona where the kidnapping took place, and is followed by Delia and her daughter, her fiance Eric who now acts as Andrew’s lawyer, and her best friend Fitz who’s there officially to write a newspaper article on the trial, but who really harbours a long-time crush on Delia. On top of everything else, Delia finds out that her mother is still alive, and is not the perfect mother she’d fantasised about all her life.

Picoult’s novels usually tackle some kind of moral dilemma or social issue, and this one is mostly about what is legal vs. what is right, as well as alcoholism, what it means to be a parent, how people reinvent their lives and the importance of memories. All characters involved have their own point of view and bar one are all treated sympathetically, though none of them quite manages to have their own individual voice. Fitz in particular has little personality outside of the friendzoned trope.

A lot of the book is taken up by a couple of sub-plots about Delia’s friendship with the local Hopi woman, and Andrew’s life in prison and his growing friendship with his cellmate. They both touch on the same legal vs. right themes in not so subtle ways, but then Picoult’s books are never really subtle about their messages and at least these side stories were interesting enough not to feel redundant. There’s a big bombshell reveal near the end – another Picoult staple; in some of her novels it feels like she’s trying way too hard to play a “gotcha!” trick on the reader, but here it feels like something that, in retrospect, has been foreshadowed and therefore doesn’t jar or feel like a cheat.

I really wish my book had the above cover. I don’t know who did mine but they should be kicked out of publishing for the ugliest Photoshop work I’ve seen in a while.

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