Book Review: The Storyteller, by Jodi Picoult

Oh man. It’s been almost a year since I’ve reviewed a book, but man… I’m missing out on it! So, without further adieu, here I am – reviewing with no strings attached!

The StorytellerJodi Picoult has been one of my favorite authors since I first read My Sister’s Keeper years ago. Her last few books, however, have been too predictable for me. Last year, when I reviewed Lone Wolf, I wrote “This is a pretty average novel… the relationships between everyone didn’t stand out to me in any special way… this book tends to fall into Picoult’s usual plot formula.” Likewise, when I reviewed Sing You Home in 2011, I noted something similar: “[H]er books are becoming somewhat predictable. The plots are certainly still intriguing, but the execution is pretty mundane and predictable. Sadly, Sing You Home, the story of a couple broken up by Zoe’s desire to have a baby, and Max’s heartbreak at tying again, falls into this disappointing “predictable” category.” When I preordered The Storyteller, I was expecting the same predictability but…

I could not have been MORE surprised.

The plot of The Storyteller is one of Picoult’s classic hot-topic, controversial nail-biters. Goodreads describes the plot:

Sage Singer befriends an old man who’s particularly beloved in her community. Josef Weber is everyone’s favorite retired teacher and Little League coach. They strike up a friendship at the bakery where Sage works. One day he asks Sage for a favor: to kill him. Shocked, Sage refuses…and then he confesses his darkest secret – he deserves to die, because he was a Nazi SS guard. Complicating the matter? Sage’s grandmother is a Holocaust survivor.

What do you do when evil lives next door? Can someone who’s committed a truly heinous act ever atone for it with subsequent good behavior? Should you offer forgiveness to someone if you aren’t the party who was wronged? And most of all – if Sage even considers his request – is it murder, or justice?

It’s not a well-known fact, but in middle school and early in high school I was obsessed with books about the Holocaust. I think it’s because I was deeply interested in knowing the roots of my maternal great-grandparents, both of whom came from Germany or whose parents came to the US from Germany. Less than 100 years ago, part of my ancestors lived in a country so torn by genocide. I believe this is why such a deeply ugly time in human history has fascinated me – because it’s my family’s history. That said, I knew right away that this Picoult book had a plot that would intrigue me, and it absolutely did. I quite literally could not put The Storyteller down.

The structure, while similar to most of Picoult’s book in that it alternates between the points of view of several characters, is unique in its middle portion. For a large period of time, the POV shifts to Sage’s grandmother and her story of living in the ghetto simply because she was born into a Jewish family. I stayed up late into the night reading this section, weeping as I turned the pages. I think it’s easy to cry over stories that detail the horrors of the Holocaust, but because of how realistically Minka (Sage’s grandmother) is depicted, the pain on these pages takes on new life and meaning. Woven in with her story was the allegorical tale of a vampire, which takes on new meaning in light of Minka’s story (and Joseph’s story).

Minka is not the only character who seems very real and alive. Picoult creates characters who are human and flawed, yet compelling and likeable – even the former Nazi Joseph. You find his acts deplorable, but you see a man who is seeking absolution and you can’t help but be drawn toward him. Even Sage, with her scarred face and sullen spirit, grows on you and you root for her. I felt like the characters in The Storyteller were real and my friends, which I don’t always feel as I read. Having characters this strong helps when writing a book about such a difficult subject, and in this case aids in having a compelling plot.

One last comment: twisty plots and surprise endings are Picoult’s calling card, and the plot twist at the end of this novel… OH BOY. I did not see it coming, and my jaw literally dropped. I had to reread to make sure I read right the first time. That, plus Minka’s story, were totally worth the read!

I absolutely loved this book. It’s Picoult at her best, and I would recommend it to anyone, even those who don’t normally read her work.

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