Wednesday, August 31, 2011

My Sister's Keeper, Jodi Picoult

If you’re looking for a page-turner to immerse yourself in, for these last dwindling days of summer, look no further than Jodi Picoult.

Her novels are about relationships, families, and loss. And you can usually find a controversial moral dilemma at the heart of her novels.  Jodi Picoult is the author of eighteen novels (something that I admire but also astounds me) of which I’ve so far read a few. My favorite of those I’ve read is My Sister’s Keeper

Like many of Picoult’s books, My Sister’s Keeper is one that will make the world fall away and keep you reading for hours. Picoult explores the controversial topic of stem cell research and so-called “designer babies.” Genetically engineering a baby to ensure the presence or absence or particular characteristics is a tricky topic, but what if a baby’s genes are specifically chosen to donate blood, marrow and organs to her sick sibling? Picoult takes an already controversial topic and turns it on its head.

My Sister’s Keeper is full of complex characters, particularly Sara, the mother of the Fitzgerald family, who is easy to simultaneously criticize and empathize with. She loves her children fiercely, yet devotes so much of herself to her daughter’s illness, it’s as though she sometimes forgets she has two other children with problems of their own.

Picoult’s writing is as thought-provoking as it is knowledgeable, her vocabulary ranging from medical-jargon and legal proceedings to astronomy and arson. It’s clear that this novel is thorough and well-researched, something that, as a writer, I appreciate.

Perhaps what I find most enjoyable about Picoult’s writing is the way she masterfully tells the story alternately from the point of view of six different characters in the book. She transitions seamlessly from one character to another, portraying the affect one child’s illness has had on an entire family. I admire Picoult’s ability to transcend gender lines and write believably as a male or female narrator – not always an easy feat.

After reading several of her novels it’s hard not to notice the similarities in the story lines: in many of her books you’re likely to read about a legal battle, a unraveling relationship teetering on the verge of divorce and/or an illness. But Jodi Picoult knows what she does well and thoroughly researches each topic so that it feels genuine down to the last detail.

And Jodi’s characters stay with you, their stories lingering in your memory long after you’ve put the book down.

I know Labor Day is drawing near and the unofficial end of summer is upon us. If you’re worried you won’t be able to squeeze in one last summer read, fear not. If you pick up My Sister’s Keeper, chances are you’ll finish it within a few days.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Rochester Women's Giving Circle

I recently had the privilege of meeting a group of women who are dedicated to giving back to the community. They are philanthropists who have formed a giving circle, pooling their money together to donate funds where they are needed most.

Rochester Women's Giving Circle
By Jennifer Magar
as printed in Rochester Woman Magazine.
I was most excited to learn about tutoring program the Giving Circle has awarded funds to, helping young girls achieve their math goals.

I am thrilled to be able to help get the word out about these women and the Rochester Women's Giving Circle. You can read the full article in the August 2011 issue of Rochester Woman Magazine

Monday, August 15, 2011

Ghostbread, Sonja Livington

In the summer, I like to enjoy a few good beach reads. Books you don’t have to think too much about or invest too much of yourself in but that are entertaining and enriching in their own way.

Admittedly, I have been known to pass up the more literary reading selections in the warmer months to reach instead for the easy-to-read page-turners. And that’s the only reason why I didn’t pick up Ghostbread sooner. But I’m glad I finally did, as it’s one of the best books I’ve read in a while.

It was recommended to me a by a friend who explained it was written by a local author, native to the Western, NY region. This alone was enough to pique my interest, but it was my friend’s description of Sonja Livingston’s writing style that made me pick up the book.

Reading about my hometown and the surrounding areas I’ve come to know, the street names and the schools even the weather patterns, felt as comfortable as old pair of worn-in shoes. Yet the places Sonja describes are foreign to me even though I’ve lived here all my life.

is a non-fiction story of Sonja Livingston’s upbringing in the 1970s as one of seven children, most with different fathers, raised by a single mother. “Five girls, five fathers. And only one of us from the man my mother actually married.” Sonja’s siblings seem hardly like brothers and sisters; they are a family loosely held together by the common thread of their unconventional and often disengaged mother. “So many people crowded around the edges of our murky family, it was hard to keep track of who was there or not.”

Sonja takes us to the parts of Western, NY relatively hidden to many of its residents. From an Indian reservation, to a motel room, to a dead-end street in an urban neighborhood, Sonja and her siblings follow their mother around from one place to another, each home only a slight improvement on the last. Despite all the moves, poverty is a constant in their lives.

Sonja writes about her family’s poverty and her desire for bread when night after night dinner consisted of only soup. “Bowl after worn plastic bowl of unfocused ingredients floated before me in strained broth. Corn, carrots, cabbage and whatever else could be found were softened in water and flavored with animal fat. We had soup on the reservation every day, sometimes twice.” Sonja writes, “When you eat soup every night, thoughts of bread get you through.” As Sonja enters high school, life’s challenges continue to mount as she gives up on her schoolwork and sees her chances at college beginning to slip away.

While Sonja’s story is a sad one, it is never self-pitying. It is only an honest story-telling. “I had no father, which sounds much more dramatic than it was. If I’d known girls whose daddies held them tight and gazed at them with so much pride it tore at the eyes, I might have thought that all girls should have such a thing. But I never knew such girls. And how can someone miss what she’s never had?”

Sonja tells us the tale of Ghostbread – bread made in celebration after warding off gagohsa, what the Seneca call a spirit who visits mortals in their dreams. “Light on the tongue and heavy in the stomach, Ghostbread drove the taste of soup away, and was far better than any religion for convincing me of heaven.”

The book’s format of short chapters (some only a single page in length) initially threw me off. It felt at first the story was difficult to get into. But I came to appreciate that each chapter acts as it’s own stand-alone story, many of which were printed as essays in the Iowa Review among others.

This book is well worth the read, no matter the season.


I'm just a simple girl who spends most of her free time hiding behind a book or typing away at a laptop. I'm a freelance writer and an avid reader soaking up all the great literature and interesting modern reads. 

In this blog I'll be sharing both my reading and writing endeavors. Here you'll find links to my freelance writing work. I'll also be dishing about my latest read as well as sharing my experiences in creative writing as I uncover what kind of writer I am.

Here you'll get to learn a little bit about me. Perhaps you'll find inspiration for your own writing, or maybe you'll discover a new good read.