Critical issues in this novel include the fact that the Center is the only place in the state of Mississippi to get a legal abortion, and laws require that abortion is a two-day process. The first day requires filling out multiple forms, proof that the woman is pregnant, above the legal age limit for the woman, and below the legal gestational age of her fetus. The day ends with an ultrasound. All efforts are, by law, made to talk the woman out of having the abortion, and the doctor is required to tell her things he knows aren't quite true about pregnancy and the procedure. On days abortions are done, protestors line the way to the clinic, taunting everyone who comes in, offering "blessing bags" through the chain link fence, including hand knit booties and baby caps, and flyers with more lies about what the procedure involves, and inflated numbers of people who would adopt babies. The characters are well rounded and seem real, and most are probably much like those who really do show up at such clinics. Not all are there for abortions, including Wren, 15, who wants birth control. Her father is the police hostage negotiator, which adds greatly to the tension. Her aunt Bex comes in with her when the nun who normally serves as an escort past the protestors doesn't arrive. Another is Olive, a middle aged lesbian who's come for years to see a particular nurse for her normal health care, now has metastatic cancer. Dr. Louie Ward, who's never married because of the danger he knows he faces because of his job, flies in the night before when it's his turn. Janine, calling herself Fiona, is a spy of a protest group, there to gather information that can be used to close down the Center. At first it confused me that the book is written backwards, though each chapter is clearly labeled with the time. By the end, it makes sense that she's written it that way.In the late morning, an angry gunman bursts into the clinic, and shoots his first victim soon after. The structure allows us to know her, and others who are shot, when if the book was written chronologically, we'd never know about them and their motivations. Picoult makes a real effort to be even handed, to make clear the gunman's reasons for being there. He's not bad, or a madman, and his reason makes some sense. We also see why the spy is there. But it's also clear which side Picoult is on. Her note at the end makes that clear as well, though it is "just the facts, ma'am.". It's an important book on an important, timely subject.

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