Following her incisive novel Small Great Things (2016), which delved into the white supremacist movement, Jodi Picoult takes on the explosive topic of abortion rights in A Spark of Light.
Picoult sets her story in Jackson, Mississippi—all the action taking place over one long day at the Center, a women’s clinic for those who had “run out of time and had run out of choices.” Picoult begins her riveting saga at the end of the story, when George Goddard—a distraught, anti-abortion father whose teenage daughter recently had an abortion at the Center—storms inside, fires several shots and takes an unknown number of hostages. Hostage negotiator Hugh McElroy has been called to the scene to confront George.
With her latest novel, Jodi Picoult takes on another explosive, timely issue: abortion rights in America.
Picoult then moves backward in time, hour by hour, gradually filling in the details of those who came to the Center that day and why they came. She approaches this divisive issue from all sides—not blaming or condoning, but shining a perceptive light into the lives of those now hoping to survive the hostage situation.
Izzy, a nurse, struggles with the dilemma of whether or not to tell her boyfriend about her newly discovered pregnancy. She’s risen from a childhood of poverty and doesn’t want to rely on him, “the prince from the entitled family.” After the shooting, Izzy tends to the leg wound suffered by Dr. Ward, whose own mother died from an illegal abortion. Dr. Ward regularly travels between four states to provide abortions for women living where almost all such clinics have closed.
Joy completed her abortion before the shooting starts—and although she wanted the procedure, she’s still in mourning for what she’s lost. She lived in foster care for 10 years and didn’t want another child to go through the same miserable experience.
Janine is at the Center faking a pregnancy—she’s an anti-abortion activist trying to prove the clinic doesn’t offer prenatal care. She lives with the guilt of her own abortion after she was raped at a fraternity party. In Picoult’s words, Janine has “white-washed the stain with years of pro-life activism.”
Also inside the Center that morning are Hugh’s teenage daughter, Wren, and his older sister, Bex, who has helped raise Wren since Hugh’s wife left them years ago. Wren is there for a prescription for birth control pills, and she asked Bex to accompany her so she wouldn’t have to walk alone past the line of protesters.
Interspersed with these stories of how each character came to be at the Center are the ongoing negotiations between Hugh and George, heightening the tension throughout the novel, even though most of the denouement occurs in the opening chapter.
A Spark of Light is another winner for Picoult—a provocative exploration of an issue that is in the spotlight now more ever before.