Book Reviews

Book Review: The Pact by Jodi Picoult – As If There Wasn’t Enough To Worry About…

It’s difficult enough being a parent with all of the usual worries we have about our kids. It seems that you can’t turn on the television without seeing something about picking up on warning signs of a variety of issues. However, what if there were no warning signs? What if, all of a sudden, out of thin air, you learned that you really didn’t know your child at all.

Or so it seemed.

In The Pact, Jodi Picoult takes us into the world of the Harte and Gold families. They became next-door neighbors when the wives were pregnant with who would become Emily Gold and Christopher Harte. The families became the best of friends, going on vacations together and always hoping for the day when Emily and Christopher would find each other as boyfriend and girlfriend. That does happen, and throughout their teenage years, the two seem inseparable.

The adults are out dining one night when they receive phone calls that Emily is dead and Christopher is in the hospital, in what seems like a suicide pact. However, the fact that Christopher is still alive means that there is one person who can tell them what happened that night and in the time leading up to it. One family is still grieving over the loss of a child, while the other struggles with accusations that it might not have been a suicide pact at all. Chris is eventually arrested and put on trial for Emily’s murder.

I’ve read a few of Jodi Picoult’s books, and I can see something of a formula in them. They seem to all contain a type of legal drama that leads to a showdown in the courtroom and an unfathomable twist to the story. Picoult likes to tell the story by flashing back from the present time of the story to tell what has led up to the events in increments, revealing the events that led to the court case at the same time the apex of the trial is happening.

That can be a difficult way to read for some, and it’s one of the reasons I hesitate to recommend Picoult’s books to my mother. I think this style will be confusing to some who prefer to read stories in a more linear mode.

However, this style does go a long way to creating drama, and in The Pact it’s no exception. Picoult slowly pulls back the curtain on the life of Emily Gold, for it is she who initiates the idea of committing suicide. For what reason, it’s hard to decipher. There are many reasons, and at the same time, there are none. She was molested in the bathroom at a fast-food restaurant when she was nine and has never revealed this shame to anyone, not even Chris whom she has told everything. This event led to her feeling dirty inside, and having a relationship with Chris hasn’t helped. Her closeness to him doesn’t feel right. In many instances, it’s termed that they are close like a brother and sister, but I don’t know of any brother and sister that I’ve seen who have a relationship like theirs. More often than not, it’s marked by fighting like cats and dogs rather than two people who are so close they tell each other everything. I think Emily’s feelings were confused in this regard as well, but a short breakup from him when she tried to put distance between them let her know that the only way she could have that friend who was her close confidante was to be his girlfriend; his lover. There was no going back once that line was crossed. Add to that high expectations of her parents for her life, and an unintended pregnancy, and you have a girl on the edge.

For Chris, he loves Emily so completely, that he can’t see his life without her. He says he wasn’t suicidal, but he never comes out and says that the reason he brought two bullets for the gun that night was that he wasn’t sure if he could go on without her. He feels her pain so completely that he wants to help her escape it, even if he doesn’t agree that suicide is the best way to do that. He wants her to live, but he wants her free from the pain as well. He doesn’t know that she was pregnant until the trial is almost underway. His response that he would have married her was exactly what Emily didn’t want. She didn’t want the life that would have resulted from being pregnant at that age and unfortunately couldn’t see any other way out.

The wildcard here seems to be that Emily suffered from depression that went undiagnosed. If Chris had turned to someone for help could that have stopped her? Or would it have just prolonged the inevitable? For his actions and inaction, is he guilty of murder? The families are torn apart as well, with familiar relationships fracturing. A seemingly perfect suburban world is shattered, and the scary thing for most parents who read this is that they will likely be able to see pieces of their own life in The Pact and wonder if it could happen to them.

Picoult details the events leading up to the shooting as well as the events following it in a way that drew me right into the story. I could see the events in my mind, and at times her descriptions were so spot on, I felt like I could feel the same thing the characters were feeling. She builds the story nicely, as I read this story with my two older girls and all of us couldn’t wait to get to the end to see what would happen. Me, I’m the type that reads the end first so I can savor the story rather than feeling like I have to rush through the book. Either way, The Pact was quite a satisfying read for all of us. It also helped open a door with the girls that no matter how bad they think a situation is, there is always a better way to solve it than suicide, and talking to someone can help provide answers. It might not be the instant answer they’d like to have, but life is a roller-coaster.

There are a few problems with The Pact. I didn’t find the explanations for why Chris didn’t try to get help for Emily from someone else convincing. I felt at times like the adults in the story weren’t given as much depth as the kids were. Picoult could have taken a few pages away from showing the reader how devoted Chris was to Emily and how awkward Emily felt in her own mind, and given the adults a bit more depth. Instead, things happen to like Chris’ father retreating from him, and it seems out of left field. What in their life until now led Chris to see that his father would reject him after he was arrested? That’s never quite clear, it just happens and the reader is supposed to accept it.

The Pact is a terrific read but be prepared for an emotional one. It’s not something to pick up by the pool as a casual read. It drew me into the story and into the lives of the characters so completely. It also makes me think that depression and suicide can seemingly come out of nowhere in even the most perfect of families. There are lessons parents can learn about making sure your children know you love them no matter what, rather than worrying about how they will face you if they bring home a failing grade or some other crisis.

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