Book Reviews

Book Review: Keeping Faith by Jodi Picoult – Who Would God Hang With?

I was introduced to Jodi Picoult after reading Nineteen Minutes, which was assigned as summer reading to the high school one summer. The good and bad side to reading so many books by the same author close together is that any patterns in the writing emerge. In some cases it is fine. In other cases, it can be a source of frustration. Picoult usually finds something very topical to write about; subjects that are in the headlines or a source of interest that has emerged recently.

In Keeping Faith, Picoult tells the story of a young girl named Faith White. It’s also the story of Faith’s mother, Mariah, although Faith’s story is first and foremost. Right as her parents split up in a rather quick divorce that leads to a messy custody battle, Faith begins seeing God.

It’s normal for children to have imaginary friends, especially after a traumatic event such as a divorce, but what makes this so strange is that Faith has had no religious upbringing. Her mother is a non-practicing Jew and her father is a lapsed Protestant. Faith is quoting Bible verses.  Worried, Mariah takes Faith to both a psychiatrist as well as a local Rabbi. Unfortunately, the psychiatrist presenting Faith’s case anonymously at a symposium happens to coincide with the very real possibility that Faith raised her grandmother from the dead. The result is the kind of publicity that would make Donald Trump jealous.

Adding to the cast of characters is renowned atheist Ian Fletcher. He’s sort of the polar opposite of the holy roller television preachers, traveling around in a motorhome trying to debunk all of the religious sightings in the world. He thinks Faith is an easy target – it has to be an angle her mother has in regard to the divorce and the custody case.

Nothing could be further from the truth as Mariah takes steps to try and shelter Faith from the religious pilgrims and other onlookers who have set up a camp at the end of their driveway. However, it’s too late to stop Colin, her ex-husband from seeking custody, as well as the Catholic church from beginning their own investigation. The Church is up in arms when Faith claims that God is a woman. Is Faith just seeking attention in the wake of her father’s disappearance from her life? If so, how can the alleged miracles and stigmata be explained? Is Mariah somehow behind it all?

Once again Picoult takes the reader on a path that culminates in a courtroom drama with the custody case. Quite a bit of what happens in the legal sense is predictable. Colin hires a slimy lawyer hell-bent on his own self-interest rather than the child at the center of the storm. Mariah is presented as the underdog Picoult wants her readers to root for right from the beginning.  She develops a rather unusual love interest, but not one I didn’t see coming fairly early on. One of the quirkier characters is Millie, Mariah’s mother. She lends a good degree of comic relief as well as a voice of reason to the scenes she’s in.

Faith is the center of the story. Picoult jumps around telling the story from a variety of points of view. Sometimes the story was confusing as it was not always apparent whose point of view she was telling the story from at the start of a chapter. I liked it when she was in Faith’s head, although she was careful not to reveal too much. Faith doesn’t really grow that much in the novel, although in the end, I felt she was a much more savvy seven-year-old than people were giving her credit for.

The best evolution throughout the novel is of Mariah. I didn’t know much about her in the beginning, but as the background is revealed of who she is and what her marriage had been like, she is easy to sympathize with and see as sort of a wilting violet. By the end of Keeping Faith, she has found the strength she needed and never would have believed she possessed at the beginning of the story. She has also gained confidence as a parent and has become closer to Faith than if the events hadn’t taken place.

Which is one of the reasons I loved the ending. Some people need stories that wrap up nicely with happily-ever-after endings. I enjoy a book that keeps me thinking and this is one of those. I actually finished it a couple of months ago and I still think about the ending and what it meant several times a week. If you are the type of person who wants an ending that’s wrapped up nice and neat, I have to warn you that this book will likely frustrate you.

Of all the Jodi Picoult novels I’ve read so far, I would say it’s between Keeping Faith and Nineteen Minutes which one is my favorite. This is that good. It brings in many questions about faith and religion. The characters grow nicely throughout the story, even if some parts are terribly predictable. Picoult definitely has a formula to her writing. In this case, it’s a formula that works very well.

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