The first lines of books are profound. Either they provide a foreshadow of the events to ensue, a poignant statement to digest, a comedic crack to grab attention, or a startling statistic or fact to open with. Go ahead . . . open to the first pages of some of the books you own and you’ll see. Even the non-fiction reads seem to offer a fun first line. Here are just a few examples. . . do you have some?
A Few First Lines in Literature
~ “It was a pleasure to burn.” Fahrenheit 451
~ “If you really want to hear about it, the first thing you’ll probably want to know is where I was born, and what my lousy childhood was like, and how my parents were occupied and all before they had me, and all that David Copperfield kind of crap, but I don’t feel like going into it, if you want to know the truth.” Catcher in the Rye
~ “The way I see it, being dead is not terribly far off from being on a cruise ship.” Stiff
~ “Mr. and Mrs. Dursley, of number four, Privet Drive, were proud to say that they were perfectly normal, thank you very much.” Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone
~ “I felt like I was trapped in one of those terrifying nightmares, the one where you have to run, run till your lungs burst, but you can’t make your body move fast enough.” New Moon
~ “It’s hard to be left behind.” The Time Traveler’s Wife (I can hardly wait until the movie adaptation comes out!!!)
~ “A man’s alter ego is nothing more than his favorite image of himself.” Catch Me if You Can
You get the idea . . . I could go on and on. Each line is so characteristic of each book’s particular theme. Each line grabs our attention. Each line makes us think.
In the book I am currently reading, Jodi Picoult’s Handle with Care, not only is the first line compelling but the first paragraph carries through the plot’s theme in a poetic way. Here is GG’s mix of Picoult’s opening words from her book:
Things break all the time.
Glass and dishes and fingernails.
You can break a record, a contract, a dollar.
You can even break the ice.
There are coffee breaks and lunch breaks.
Day breaks, waves break, voices break.
Silence and fever breaks.
Chains can be broken.
Things break all the time.
Yes, things do break but that doesn’t have to be a bad thing at all. When something breaks, we pick up the pieces and create something new! Period. Looking back at what I typed, I see an ice cream sundae formed by the layout of the words. Clever that it turned out that way. See the good in all things.
Stay tuned for a future post in which GG reviews Handle with Care.
My Sister’s Keeper has been the book I recommend to anyone and everyone – male or female, young or older – since I read it three years ago. Imagine my excitement when I discovered that Jodi Picoult finally sold the rights to release it as a movie. Granted, I was skeptical of Cameron Diaz cast as the mother figure (my doubts were pleasantly diminished, by the way, after watching her believable, real performance) but I was ecstatic that this tear-jerker was going to unfold again before my eyes, only this time on the big screen.
Before I go any further, let me explain (as I mentioned in my previous review of Change of Heart) that this was the first book I EVER read that made me outwardly cry – and as an English teacher and life-long lover of reading, that’s saying a lot. I cry very easily during sad (even not so sad) movies but, for some reason, it is harder for me to cry while reading. Maybe the cognitive skills I use while reading is seeping the emotional energy out of me or maybe seeing something unfold in front of me is more compelling than watching the reading “movie” in my head. Who knows . . . but I do know that the twisted ending to this book – the tearjerker turn point – is the part that made the book so unbelievably great, so poignant, so “Jodi” – as my daughter would say. Yes, Picoult is her favorite contemporary author as well. She’s got me beat by having read eight of Picoult’s books so far . . . and counting.
I suppose this movie provided its own surprise ending by not having a surprise ending. It completely left out the twisted resolution that made My Sister’s Keeper the phenomenal New York Times bestseller that it is. Did the producers take the easy way out by portraying the expected ending to a sad cancer story? Did they want to leave the element of surprise to those who have not yet read the book? To the movie’s credit, if you did not read the book, you may walk out of the theatre believing you viewed a very solid movie – and you’d be right. On the other hand, acting out the Jodi Picoult original version would have been as easy to portray on film. I am convinced that if the original storyline was left in tact, this movie would have received even greater reviews from the critcs and even greater traffic at the box office.
Both the original and big-screen story center around Sara (Cameron Diaz) and Brian Fitzgerald (Jason Patric) who have been informed that their young daughter Kate (Sofia Vassilieva) has leukemia, and that she only has a few years to live. As the Internet Movie DataBase states, the doctor suggests to the parents that they try an unorthodox medical procedure of producing another child in a test-tube that would be a perfect match as a donor for Kate. Sara will try anything to save Kate, and they have a new baby Anna (Abigail Breslin) to be used as a donor for Kate. Right here, it becomes an interesting question to me asking if they had Sara for the right reasons. The first thing they use is blood from the umbilical cord for Kate. As years go on, the doctors must take bone marrow from Anna to give to Kate. At age 11, the next thing Anna must give to her sister is a kidney. Anna has had enough of all of these medical procedures, and she decides to sue her parents for medical emancipation and the right to decide how her body will be used. The whole family is being torn apart by Anna’s decision because everyone knows what will happen to Kate if she doesn’t get a new kidney. Anna will hire a maverick lawyer, Campbell Alexander (Alec Baldwin), who would look only onto Anna’s interest. The conflict ensues from there.
It appears that Cameron Diaz is maturing away from her giggly girlfriend days on to approachable, maternal roles. Her concern, anguish, and guilt come through loud and clear with this movie . . . she happily surprised me. Of course, Abigail Breslin does a seamless job as a wiser-than-her-years girl standing up for herself while fiercely loving her sister. Jason Patric is one of those “that guy” actors whose face we recognize but whose name slips us. I’ll certainly remember his face. Kidding aside, he does a fine job of portraying the father and husband trying to balance life with his family. Sophia Vasselievia captures our hearts and sympathy instantly and portrays the dying sister with grace. Evan Ellingson charmingly plays the older brother whose own troubles get overshadowed by his sister’s illness. The book delves much deeper into the troubled soul of this young man. Finally, Alec Baldwin earns a solid pat on the back for his forceful prescence as maverick lawyer who only has Anna’s best interest in mind.
I won’t give away the ending, and I will continue to strongly recommend the read. On the other hand, Grading Girl gives the movie a solid C. Whether or not you read the book, the ending is, in my opinion, predictable and cliche. The acting is solid and it’s still a tearjerker, but it is not the compelling story line Picoult intended it to be. This may be a good movie to wait until DVD release. It’ll make for a decent movie to watch in the comfort of your own home on a chilly fall night. GG is disappointed.
Change of Heart by Jodi Picoult did not receive quite the notoriety as My Sister’s Keeper or 19 Minutes but not for lack of a compelling story. The controversial topics of religion and capital punishment are what kept this book off of some people’s nightstands – but not mine!! Picoult is my favorite contemporary author and she does not disappoint with this one; she carries her characteristic twists to the end once again.
Within each of her 16 novels, Jodi Picoult delves deep into the most troubling contemporary social issues. In Change of Heart, she examines a convicted killer on death row, Shay Bourne, who has taken the lives of Officer Kurt Nealon and his young stepdaughter, Elizabeth. When Shay discovers that his victim’s living daughter, Claire is desperately in need of a heart transplant, he sees his only chance for salvation – donating his own heart after his death sentence. Standing in his way, of course, is the law and a mother filled with anger. On his side are three unexpected allies: a Catholic priest (who had a hand in Shay’s sentencing!), an ambitious attorney who is determined to see Shay die on his own terms, and a community that sees Shay as a messianic character who gives them hope.
Picoult’s research never ceases to amaze me. Her meticoulous portrayal of death row laws along with the book’s attention to Christianity, Judaism, and the Gnostic gospels gave me new insight. This story is told from four different points of view: the Catholic priest, the attorney, another death row inmate, and the mother of the victims. Through their thoughts, the reader is given some very deep food for thought . . . “There’s a big difference between mercy and salvation” . . . “Would you give up your vengeance against someone you hate if it meant saving someone you love?” . . . “If you bring forth what is within you, what you bring forth will save you. If you do not bring forth what is within you, what you do not bring forth will destroy you” . . . quotations such as these make for a very provocative book. In fact, Picoult uses several famous quotations here from some of the greatest thinkers in history including Lewis Carroll, Mother Teresa, Albert Einsten, the Dalai Lama, Woody Allen, Albert Einstein, etc.
I enjoy books that make me think, challenge my philosophies, and offer new perspectives. Change of Heart does all that and more. In the story, religion seems at times to bring characters together and at others to drive a wedge between them. All the while, what defines “justice” is continually challenged. We all know it’s wrong to execute someone innocent, but what about someone who is guilty? The book never screams one side or another. Rather, through the completely varied characters in Change of Heart, the reader is left with perspectives on all sides of these compelling issues so that one closes the book exploring one’s own values and beliefs.
Grading Girl gives Change of Heart a B+. While this did not make me outwardly cry like My Sister’s Keeper did (something I never normally do when reading), this did leave me with some deep, concerting thoughts. It’s a captivating story of redemption, justice, and love.
On to more books off of my very high summer reading pile . . . Picoult’s Handle with Care is one of them and I look forward to exploring more thorny moral and ethical issues with this compelling author.