New Release Book Review: A Spark of Light by Jodi Picoult

A Spark of Light…

About the Book:

When Vonita opened the doors of the Center that morning, she had no idea that it would be for the last time.

Wren has missed school to come to the Center, the sole surviving women’s reproductive health clinic in the state, chaperoned by her aunt, Bex. Olive told Peg she was just coming for a check-up. Janine is undercover, a pro-life protester disguised as a patient. Joy needs to terminate her pregnancy. Louie is there to perform a service for these women, not in spite of his faith, but because of it.

When a desperate and distraught gunman bursts into the Center, opening fire and taking everyone hostage, Hugh McElroy is the police negotiator called to the scene. He has no idea that his fifteen-year-old daughter is inside.

Told in a daring and enthralling narrative structure that counts backward through the hours of the standoff, this is a story that traces its way back to what brought each of these very different individuals to the same place on this fateful day.

Jodi Picoult – one of the most fearless writers of our time – tackles a complicated issue in this gripping and nuanced novel. How do we balance the rights of pregnant women with the rights of the unborn they carry? What does it mean to be a good parent? A Spark of Light will inspire debate, conversation … and, hopefully, understanding.

My Thoughts:

Jodi Picoult returns with her trademark ferocity, this time tackling the issue of reproductive rights in her latest novel, A Spark of Light. She is of course a writer who has never shied away from the big issues, and while it’s very clear from her author note which side of the fence Jodi sits on with regards to this issue, I do think she does an excellent job of presenting a holistic view through her narrative. This novel has more been written with the intent to inform rather than persuade. I actually read the author note before I began the novel (quirk alert – I always do this) and I recommend all readers do the same. It offers perspective and context on what is undoubtedly a sensitive topic.

‘There is a moment when you realise that no matter how well you plan, how carefully you organise, you are at the mercy of chaos. It’s way time slows the moment before the drunk driver crosses the median line and ploughs into your vehicle. It’s the seconds that tick by between when the doctor invites you to take a seat, and when she gives you bad news. It’s the stutter of your pulse when you see another man’s car in the driveway of your house in the middle of the day. Hugh looked down at the home screen of his phone and felt the electric shiver of intuition: he knew. He just knew.’

Jodi writes as wonderfully as always in this novel, striking at the heart of each character and drawing them out in pieces for us. We are privy to the thoughts of all the major players from the gunman through to the hostage negotiator, with all of the hostages in between. I struggled with this novel though, in a way I never have with any of Jodi Picoult’s other titles. The problem for me was in the narrative structure. The story is told backwards, in one hour blocks, from 5pm back through to 8am, with the epilogue springing us forward in time to the end of the stand off at 6pm. It didn’t work for me. At about the halfway mark, I began to feel pulled out of the story when each new hour started. I understand why this structure was used, giving us the opportunity to get to know each of the character’s stories, the reasons why each of them was in that place at that time, but I do feel the story building and narrative flow was sacrificed for this technique of character development. I almost wish that I had read the novel backwards once I realised this was the structure, as I would then have been reading the story in a chronological fashion. Maybe one day I’ll do this and then decide which way worked better for me.

A Spark of Light should come with a sensitivity warning. While it’s a no-brainer that a novel about abortion is going to raise flags and press buttons for some readers, it was the graphic description of an abortion on a fifteen week foetus that I could have done without. I’m not that feint hearted, but once you’ve read something that is described as meticulously as this, it’s impossible to un-see it after. I don’t think I really needed to know the ins and outs quite the way I do now in order to have gotten the overall message of the novel.

A Spark of Light addresses a serious issue in a serious manner. It’s heavy reading, but all of Jodi Picoult’s novels usually are. Fans will read this novel simply because it’s Jodi and we’ve been waiting two years for it. I’ll still read her next one, regardless of my feelings about this one, simply because it’s Jodi and I’ll likely be waiting two years for it. There was a lot of stuff going on in this novel that made me angry, not at Jodi, but at society, the fanatics and the law makers. This is what Jodi does best, gets you thinking, gets you disassembling and reassessing. It’s why I love her novels, no matter what the issue at hand. Despite the structure, despite the content in places, this is a fine novel, thought provoking and multi-focused in its purpose. It is above all, a novel intent on inspiring conversation and instilling understanding.


Thanks is extended to Allen & Unwin for providing me with a copy of A Spark of Light for review.

About the Author:

JODI PICOULT is the author of twenty-five novels. Her most recent, Small Great Things, Leaving Time, The Storyteller, Lone Wolf and Sing You Home, have all been number one on the Australian and New Zealand fiction bestseller lists. Jodi lives in New Hampshire with her husband and three children. Read more about Jodi on her website:

A Spark of Light
Published by Allen & Unwin
Released on 2nd October 2018

8 thoughts on “New Release Book Review: A Spark of Light by Jodi Picoult

  1. What a great review. Maybe I’ll try reading it backwards for you. Yes Jodi doesn’t shy away from things. Not sure I want to read about the ins and outs of the 15 week foetus being aborted though. I’ll let you know what I think once the library gets me the book.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks Claire! I’m honestly not being a sook about this, it really was full on graphic detail. Not quite sure why she included it. She says in her author note she sat in on abortions as research and gave some details that were specfic there, but not quite as graphic as what she included in the story. I’ll be interested to know what you think, mixed reviews on Goodreads, but that’s nothing unusual.


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