A Spark of Light, Jodi Picoult, author: Bahni Turpin, narrator
The story, about an incident at an abortion clinic, immediately draws the reader in because the subject is both timely and heartbreaking. Because of the writing structure, however, it also becomes repetitious and pushes the reader away. The author begins this story at the end and then works backward, telling the story of each person who was trapped in the abortion center at the time George Goddard entered and began terrorizing them. Therefore, the story is repeated over and over in slightly altered ways.
The author examines the abortion issue minutely, in great detail, and she raises many questions. She explores the issues of legal vs. illegal abortions. What is an illegal abortion? Is it different in each state? She tackles pro-choice vs. pro life, and the need for clinics to provide health care for women, clinics like Planned Parenthood. The idea of the need for parental knowledge when a minor elects to have an abortion is raised. In some cases, though, a child is afraid to tell the parent that she has been promiscuous. Should the cost of an abortion be so prohibitive that only the rich can afford it? What are the many possible reactions of parents when they discover their child has had an abortion or has engaged in pre-marital sex and has been keeping secrets? Can single men raise female children adequately or is there a need for a female guidance to provide certain information about bodily functions? Is killing a human justified in order to protest the killing of a fetus? Does it make sense to mourn the loss of a fetus but not the loss of a full grown human? The characters depicted in the novel allow all of the issues surrounding abortion to be examined.
Dr. Ward is a doctor who performs abortions at the only center that provides abortions in Mississippi. He is very religious, but he believes a woman has a right to choose whether or not she wishes to be pregnant.
Wren McElroy is 16 and in love. She wants to go to the center to obtain birth control so that she and her boyfriend can engage in sex.
Bex is Wren’s aunt. She accompanies Wren to the center because Wren does not feel she can share this with her father, a single parent.
Hugh McElroy, Wren’s father, is a hostage negotiator. He does not know that Wren has gone to obtain birth control with his sister.
Joy works and is a student. She had a relationship with a man who betrayed her and now she is pregnant. She is at the clinic for an abortion. If she has the child she will not be able to finish her studies.
Beth found herself pregnant after a one night stand. She is 17 and her time is running out to obtain a legal abortion. She did not realize the young college student, she thought she would see again, had a false identity. She tries to abort her baby illegally. The laws of Mississippi are not kind to her.
Janine is a pro life activist who is at the center acting as a spy to find out information that will be helpful to the pro life cause.
Izzy is a nurse at the center. She is pregnant and wants to have her child, but she will keep the child a secret from the father.
Olive is a social worker. She is a lesbian who works at the center.
George Goddard is a man who is disappointed with G-d. His daughter had an abortion and he feels he was robbed of a grandchild. He cannot forgive her, and he has planned his revenge.
The author explores each issue that is raised. While the idea of killing an embryo is anathema to some, some feel that killing full grown humans is justified. The story philosophizes and moralizes as the author attempts to explain both sides of the abortion story. Little judgment is passed about possible behavioral choices which might have prevented some of the problems raised. Some of the characters were lonely, some felt unloved. Some felt they were misfits. They all needed guidance.
The justice system, with regards to abortion, is flawed. It is exposed to show its inequality. The judges and prosecutors who determine the fate of those involved are portrayed as arrogant actors who seem to want vengeance and punishment, above all, or else they want the publicity to use as a stepping stone to further a career.
The novel illustrates several parallel points of view: One parent will forgive his child anything, the other will not. One woman is loved, another feels alone and unloved. One is homosexual and wants to end his life. One is happily in a lesbian relationship. One wants a child, another wants to terminate her pregnancy. One is pro-abortion and one is anti-abortion. In some places it is legal and in some it is not. Legality depends on the term of pregnancy and who administers the procedure. Some of the characters are faithful and some are not. There are secrets and lies that threaten the lives of others. The point that I felt was driven home was the different attitudes of the parents. One would save the life of his child, sacrificing his own. The other would sacrifice his child’s life to redeem his own. Religion was a character in the novel, but it was acted out and viewed differently by each character.
If you are expecting a truly balanced discussion of abortion, you will be disappointed, but if you just explore the emotions and thoughts of the characters, it will be a rewarding read. It tackles single parenting, especially in the absence of the mother, it tackles forgiveness for disobedience, it tackles the penalties of poverty, it supports freedom of choice, exposes racism, and attempts to show how far a parent will go to protect his child or protest what a child has done.
In some ways, the author attempted to do too much. Many questions were raised. The ideas of when life begins and how much any life is valued are front and center, but the questions surrounding them remain unresolved by the novel. The author’s personal view is obviously pro-choice and extremely liberal as evidenced by her personal note at the end.