Available in hardcover, paperback and audio download. Harper Perennial, 2006. (Originally published in 1999.) 448 pages.
I was bombarded with accolades for Jodi Picoult. After browsing her site and researching a few of her titles on Amazon, I settled for this one. The plot caught my attention immediately.
The novel centers on a seven-year-old named Faith. After she and her mother discover her father with another woman, her parents divorce and she gets a visit from God (whom she calls her "Guard.") The mother has a history of mental illness, the father a history of infidelity and the the child no history of religious training. Yet, these visits continue. Soon Faith is quoting Scripture and talking about her new friend with everyone. It isn't long before the media gets involved. Hundreds of people camp out on the family's front yard, including a cult and a nationally-known teleathiest (imagine a handsome, southern preacher trying to prove God doesn't exist). The story escalates when Faith's grandmother, a lovely Jewish character, dies of a heart attack. Faith brings her back to life by following the instructions of "her Guard" (who happens to be female). Psychologists, rabbis and priests are all interested -- especially when Faith exhibits signs of stigmata. The story snowballs into an intense custody case.
As I said, the plot caught me immediately. With a better writer, this could have been an extraordinary book! Unfortuately, it was painful to read -- for me and my husband, who had to endure my emotional outbursts and rants of irritation. Rather than consistently following one character's perspective, the author switched points-of-view frequently and with little warning. For the most part, it was written in first person, present tense, but even that was inconsistent. Sometimes it was first person for Faith and sometimes first person for her mother or her psychologist. Sprinkled throughout were flashbacks that added very little to the plot. I rolled my eyes more than once at the trite dialog. Worst of all, I suffered through the book only to reach an inconclusive end. The final pages sparked more confusion than resolve.
Knowing this is a secular author had no expectations of accurate or even consistent theology. I did, however, expect the author to be consistent with her story. I didn't want her characters to match my doctrine or beliefs, but I think it perfectly reasonable for author to understand her characters' beliefs and explain them thoroughly. The end of the book simply highlighted how little she knew about the world she had created.
Final Thoughts: Painful and disappointing. The plot was fascinating, but the delivery was awful. Not recommended.