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Plain Truth by Jodi Picoult

Sorry the post is up so late today, mates, but quite frankly that is because I am hung over.

Now, I don't know how much Blogulator readers know about Jodi Picoult; she's pretty much a publishing industry phenomenon, but the quiet kind, the kind that churns out a book a year without being all ostentatious about it. If you don't know her books, you probably know the Lifetime movies based off of them; the only one I've ever seen is The Pact, but there are several, including an adaptation of Plain Truth, which I just read entirely last Sunday while traveling, that starred Law and Order: SVU's Mariska Hargitay and Allison Pill, who can currently be seen in Milk.

Despite the fact that I have several friends who are complete Jodi Picoult accolites, Plain Truth is the first novel of hers that I've read, and only because I decided last weekend to try her out. The thing is, I'm about to turn twenty-five and it's time for me to stop hating on stuff I've never read. This is why a romance novel review will probably show up here sometime soon--get ready for that!

Plain Truth concerns the trial of an eighteen-year-old Amish girl, Katie Fisher, for killing her own newborn child. According to the prosecution, she hid the pregnancy from her family, gave birth in secret in a barn, then suffocated the child. Making matters worse, Katie denies everything, including having been pregnant and giving birth, which a medical examination clearly indicates she had been and done. A distant cousin of Katie's, Ellie Hathaway, a highly-paid defense lawyer from Philadelphia, is on sabbatical nearby at their shared aunt's home when Katie is arraigned and decides to defend her when her father refuses to hire a lawyer.

I found this premise fascinating, especially since I had heard over the years that Jodi Picoult is dogged about her research and her books are usually pretty accurate, so I was excited to learn more about the Amish. And, boy, did I. Let me drop some knowledge on ya. Throughout the novel, there are constant comparisons between the Amish and the "English," and by "English" they mean us, the rest of mainstream American society. Where we speak English, the Amish (though they do speak English, too) speak Pennsylvania Dutch, a West Central German dialect (thanks Wikipedia!). Where the emphasis in our society is on individual accomplishments and the importance of independence, the Amish, or "Plain folk" as they call themselves, are more community-minded. They stop their education after eighth grade and any attempt to get more schooling is grounds for excommunication.

Much is made during Katie's trial about what being Amish means in the context of her supposed crime. The prosecution insists the shame an out of wedlock pregnancy would bring upon Katie and her family is motivation enough for her to try to dispose of her child, while Ellie explains that the Amish take a humble approach to sin and punishment, that while unwed motherhood is by no means encouraged by the community, as long as Katie confessed her crime at church and willingly took her punishment (a period of shunning, after which she would be fully restored to the church with no further consequences and her sin expunged), all would be well and, anyway, children are considered treasures in the Amish community.

The book is pretty dense. There are layers upon layers of complications that compliment what is, in actuality, your typical Law and Order: SVU episode. Amish v. English, town v. country, family issues that are complicated by religious issues, romance and marriage, a deep investigation of the mother/child bond, etc. The prose is, if not absolutely beautiful and heartwrenching, perfectly servicable and not at all cloying or cliche. On the whole, I found Plain Truth to be a well-written and interesting page turner, and I would definitely pick up another of Picoult's novels in the future. It didn't change my life, but then again so few books do.

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  1. Blogger chris | 3:29 PM |  

    Her books always seemed very bland-looking by their covers, which is all I've ever judged them by. This does sound like an interesting premise though - I love reading/watching stuff about Amish people. Witness and Kingpin are AWESOME.

  2. Blogger Nicole | 5:14 PM |  

    I'm a fan because it's easy, engaging reading, that have smart premises and plot nuances. I also have another connection to her: she lives in the small town where I grew up and my mom was the pediatrician for her children. They always had the best Halloween costumes, like when they all went as the Wizard of Oz. But, anyway, I think "Keeping Faith," about a little girl who develops stigmata and the absolute hatred thrown at her mother by the doubting media. That being said, I bought her most recent book (about a man on death row who wants to donate his organs to a dying relative and therefore sues not to be killed by lethal injection) but couldn't get into it.

  3. Anonymous OHD | 11:38 AM |  

    I really want to read Keeping Faith, actually, because I'm fascinated by modern stories about religious experiences that are not published by Christian publishers (okay, turning twenty-five is not going to get rid of ALL my prejudices). And I want to read My Sister's Keeper.

    The only thing that kind of bugs me about Jodi Picoult is that she has been writing these books for, like, 20 years and refuses to update her author picture. FOR REALS, she no longer looks like that.

  4. Blogger Adam | 12:13 PM |  

    At the end of the post you indicated that there may be a short list of books that did changes your life. What are they? Or perhaps that's a blog post on its own.

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