Book Reviews

Book Review: Perfect Match by Jodi Picoult – Every Parent’s Worst Nightmare

In trying to keep an open avenue of communication with my own children, we have always tackled tough topics and I have had to answer some difficult questions from them. A topic that comes up from time to time, depending on what is on the news at the current time, is child molestation. I have told them a number of times that if the only way I thought I could keep them safe or protect them from a molester was to kill the person, I would do it in a heartbeat.

In Perfect Match, Nina Frost is a prosecuting attorney in Maine. One of the toughest jobs she has is handling the case of accused child molesters. Perfect Match begins with her handling the case of a young girl who is being molested by her father. Not only can’t she get the father convicted, but she also can’t even get the case to trial due to the fact that the five-year-old victim must go through a competency hearing. This hearing almost always means that her testimony won’t be heard due to the fact that a five-year-old can’t make certain distinctions between truth and fiction, right and wrong as others can as they get older. The girl’s mother isn’t even looking for prosecution, in this case, just being able to keep the child molester – the girl’s father – from having any custody or visitation. Nina is at a loss for what to tell the mother.

Back home, Nina is married and has a five-year-old son, Nathaniel. Nathaniel has some speech issues, but in most other ways is a typical five-year-old. That is until he suddenly stops talking completely. Nina and her husband, Caleb, immediately take him to a psychiatrist. It’s during this session that Nina sees the indication that Nathaniel was molested.

Her world begins to cave in, but her resolve is strong to get Nathaniel to communicate again. While her husband advocates waiting for him to start talking again, Nina begins to teach Nathaniel sign language. This leads to the misidentification of the suspect, not once, but twice.

When Nina thinks she knows who the perpetrator is, her position causes her to feel that justice will not be served. She takes the law into her own hands, with disastrous results.

I’ve only read a few of Jodi Picoult’s novels, but I can already see a pattern to them. That’s not saying they aren’t good, it’s just there is a distinct pattern to the way she sets up a situation and then hits the reader with surprises. Some of what happens in Perfect Match I found to be predictable, while at other times she surprised me.

There were also some distractions along the way. Intertwined with the whole child molestation case is the issue of Nina’s life-long friendship with Patrick Ducharme, a local police officer. They have some unfinished business between them which comes to a head during this time. While Patrick is instrumental in helping reach the outcome of the story, he is also perhaps part of the problem with Nina.

Nina’s mixed feelings toward Patrick as well as her actions don’t serve to make her a very likable heroine. If Picoult’s aim was to get me, as a mother, to feel the same outrage Nina must have felt, well, I couldn’t. You see, while Nina saw many cases like her son’s going unpunished, there was a good chance that Nathaniel’s molester would be punished due to the physical evidence. Even without Nathaniel’s testimony, she should be willing to give the wheels of justice a shot without jumping in with both feet the way she does. Her actions made me believe she was doing this more for her, rather than her son. She did what she did to vent the frustrations of years of seeing child molesters walk, rather than actual outrage over her son’s molestation.

This is why the final outcome was unsatisfying to me. I guess the reader is supposed to be rooting for Nina, but I couldn’t.

Another problem with Perfect Match is how the story is told from various perspectives. At times it is Nina in the first person. At times it is Nathaniel in the first person or his thoughts. Other times, it is a third-person narrative looking over the entire situation. Sometimes a new section would begin and it would be a page or more before I was sure who Picoult had talking or what she was talking about. It could become quite confusing at times.

Where she does well, I thought, is when the story is told from Nathaniel’s perspective. The introspection of a five-year-old is handled well, although at times he might seem a bit too precocious for his years.

The book excels in the way Picoult lays out what usually happens in child molestation cases and why they are so difficult to prosecute. Picoult has researched the topic thoroughly enough that these points are informative and will make any parent angry that the courts don’t really serve the victims well. At the same time, I could see the point as an ugly divorce case could end up with a parent hell-bent on revenge twisting something innocent into something quite ugly just to exact vengeance on the ex-spouse. I have seen it happen in real-life, and it’s not pretty. What we end up with is a system that’s far from perfect, and Picoult has detailed the legal aspects of a child molestation case quite well.

However, that’s not enough for me to rank it with one of Picoult’s better books. I didn’t find her characters to be sympathetic or the kind of people I wanted to root for. Instead, the whole outcome left a bitter taste in my mouth. Perhaps that was what she was going for – asking the question does justice only come to those who deserve it?

There are other books by Picoult that I would read before Perfect Match if I were recommending her body of work to a friend. Try Nineteen Minutes or My Sister’s Keeper first. This one is average, at best. While I don’t regret reading it, it’s not a book that left me feeling optimistic in the end, either about the justice system or society in general.

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