REVIEW: A SPARK OF LIGHT, BY JODI PICOULT

 

The warm fall day starts like any other at the Center—a women’s reproductive health services clinic—its staff offering care to anyone who passes through its doors. Then, in late morning, a desperate and distraught gunman bursts in and opens fire, taking all inside hostage.

After rushing to the scene, Hugh McElroy, a police hostage negotiator, sets up a perimeter and begins making a plan to communicate with the gunman. As his phone vibrates with incoming text messages he glances at it and, to his horror, finds out that his fifteen-year-old daughter, Wren, is inside the clinic.

But Wren is not alone. She will share the next and tensest few hours of her young life with a cast of unforgettable characters: A nurse who calms her own panic in order to save the life of a wounded woman. A doctor who does his work not in spite of his faith but because of it, and who will find that faith tested as never before. A pro-life protester, disguised as a patient, who now stands in the crosshairs of the same rage she herself has felt. A young woman who has come to terminate her pregnancy. And the disturbed individual himself, vowing to be heard.

Told in a daring and enthralling narrative structure that counts backward through the hours of the standoff, this is a story that traces its way back to what brought each of these very different individuals to the same place on this fateful day.

My Thoughts: A crisis, a cast of numerous characters, and the defining moments that brought them together form the core of A Spark of Light.

The alternating narratives begin near the end of the explosive events, and as the story takes us back in time, we learn about each of the characters in depth, from their flaws to their hopes and dreams.

Wren, a fifteen-year-old girl who turns out to be the daughter of Hugh, the hostage negotiator, was there for an entirely different reason than some of the others. And Janine, another hostage, had a secret goal on that day, one that could mark her as the enemy.

I enjoyed watching as the author peeled the hours back to the very beginning, revealing much and offering a chance to understand all points of view. It is sometimes impossible to understand another person’s perspective on an issue until faced with circumstances that bind them together in life-and-death moments. If people could learn to listen and try to understand each other without having to come to this point, there might be less anger and fewer violent episodes. This story shone a light on the author’s trademark issues: controversy, conflict, and multiple perspectives set against a violent stand-off.

In the end, we are gifted with a sense of resolution as we watch how the day ends for the characters. And in a surprising twist, we learn about some unexpected connections. 5 stars.

***

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