Monday, August 17, 2009

Life, Death, and Family

I knew that reading this book would be difficult because of the content, but I didn't know just how much it would affect me. My Sister's Keeper is a beautifully-written book about a family coping with the worst possible thing that could happen: the illness of a child. The story is told from the point-of-view of several characters. Sara, a lawyer, but now a stay-at-home mom takes care of her children as only she knows how and now must defend herself against her own daughter. Brian is a firefighter and saves the lives of other people on a daily basis, but he can't save his own daughter. Kate is the middle child and at 16 has been suffering with a rare form of leukemia for over 13 years. Jesse, the eldest child, was not a perfect donor match for Kate and has become somewhat of a delinquent in a desperate cry for attention as Kate receives all the attention from the family due to her illness and frequent trips to the hospital. Jesse has become a pyromaniac in an attempt to cope with his inability to save Kate and, ironically, uses fire to literally and figuratively draw his father's attention.

Then, there's Anna, the youngest child. She is coming of age and is questioning her conception. She was genetically designed to be the perfect donor match for her older sister and best friend, Kate. Her first donation was at her birth when she donated cordblood for her sister. After a myriad of other donations, Kate now needs a kidney and Anna decides that she wants to be medically emancipated to make her own decision as far as any other donations go. As the trial begins, it seems that Anna simply doesn't want to donate an organ, but as most appearances go one must look deeper to understand them. Anna's cunning, ruthless lawyer, Campbell, helps bring this to light as he plays the perfect foil for the young, innocent Anna. But, they later learn that they have more in common than they expected. There is also Julia, Anna's guardian ad litem, who has a past with Campbell and a beautiful love story underscores the novel as Julia learns Campbell's true nature and his own desire to hide his medical needs and avoid being a burden on a loved one.

As I read the book, I found myself making judgments about each member of the family. Sara becomes so obsessed with saving one child's life that she neglects the needs of the other two. How far should she go to put her healthy daughter's life at risk to save the one that is terminally ill? Brian seems to use his work to escape from his family. His own son involves himself in dangerous activity that is the anti-thesis of his life's work. Anna is more difficult to understand. Is she really being selfish or just a child who wants to grow up with a normal life? Does she love her sister enough to donate an organ or does she resent her because she symbolizes everything she has had to give up to be her constant donor? Is Kate selfish for allowing her sister to be her own personal savior instead of letting her live her life to its fullest? Is living life expecting death really living or does living with death stalking you make you lose sight of hope? What about when death comes suddenly and unexpectedly? Does regret for all the things you could've said and done haunt you? The book made me realize that there are no answers to any of these questions, especially as a parent. As a parent, you just have to make the best decisions for your family as a whole because you love them all as Sara stated in her closing arguments. In the end, Anna does what she was born to do and the ending resonates with the bittersweet emotions associated with life, death, and family.


  1. In the near future we will be able to grow organs for the purpose of transplanting and saving for later use. I hope this will replace the option of giving birth to a child just for the sole purpose of saving another individual.

    There are international groups who are not waiting for the near future but are currently involved in criminal organ harvesting from those society rejects. Such a group was recently busted in NJ by intelligence agencies with connections to major politicians and community rabbis

  2. The book makes a good case for and against stem-cell research. Does the good outweigh the bad? I think the author was able to intertwine the story of a family which such a controversial issue very craftily. But, hopefully, future generations won't have to make such tough choices because there will be other alternatives such as those you mentioned above.


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