My Sister’s Keeper

Okay, so I’m just going to say upfront that this definitely isn’t the kind of book you should be reading if you’re worried about triggers because you have lost a loved one to illness or an accident.

Most people are probably familiar with the movie, “My Sister’s Keeper.” Cameron Diaz gives a, frankly, phenomenal performance as the mother of three children, one of whom is dying from leukemia, who is trying desperately to hold her family together and keep her daughter alive. While I am a big fan of the movie, it wasn’t until I read the book that I realized the movie is quite a bit different from the book, and I’m still not sure which one I prefer.

“My Sister’s Keeper” deals with some very sensitive topics, such as organ donation and stem cell research. It tells the story of a family with two children, Jesse and Kate, the youngest of which is diagnosed with leukemia when she’s two  years old. Because neither of the parents or Kate’s brother, Jesse, are a match for her, they are unable to donate bone marrow, blood, or organs for their daughter so they make the incredibly controversial decision to genetically engineer another daughter who would be a perfect match for Kate and could give her all that she might need in the future.

Fast forward about thirteen years and Kate is dying from renal failure and in desperate need of a kidney transplant, which her family expects will come from Anna (their genetically engineered child). Anna, however, decides to sue her parents for medical emancipation so that she doesn’t have to donate to her sister anymore against her will.

So, anyone who has seen the movie knows that Anna wins her case, but it is only after taking her parents to court that we discover Anna was not acting selfishly or because she wants her sister to die, but rather because Kate herself wants to die and asked Anna to do this for her. And, predictably, Kate does pass away peacefully in the end.

Not in the book! No, they decided to throw a curve ball into the mix and let me tell you: they got me. They got me good.

Spoiler Alert!!!! (Don’t read further if you don’t want the ending of this book revealed).

Instead of killing off the cancer-stricken teenager who has been battling for her life for sixteen years and is ready to let go, the author kills off her little sister in a car accident. Even though Anna has spent her life taking care of her sister and has been, up till now, quite healthy. What’s more, Anna did indeed win her case and was told she didn’t have to donate a kidney, but when she’s pronounced brain dead after her accident, it is decided by her legal medical representative that they need to hurry and put her kidney into her sister, who then goes on to live in remission for at least another ten years, by the end of the book.

So yeah, didn’t see that coming.

Frankly, while the ending of the book is anything but predictable and may seem unfair, it didn’t bother me that much. Certainly I was shocked and appalled when I read it, but the actual event itself did not seem that unjust to me. That’s just how life is. It’s unfair and unpredictable, but I have to believe that most everything happens for a reason, even if we don’t understand the reasons behind them in the moment.

Actually, what bothered me more about the book was one specific character who was, rightfully, I think, not included in the movie. In the movie, Alec Baldwin plays Campbell Alexander, the lawyer who agrees to represent Anna in her lawsuit against her parents. Aside from his interest in her case, he’s not an overly significant character. However, he is a much more important character in the book. Well, I’m not sure “important” is the right word. His significance really only extends insofar as he represents Anna in her case, but for some reason the author thought it necessary to give him much more of a backstory. She did so by including another character: his ex-girlfriend from high school and Anna’s guardian ad litem, Julia Romano. A large portion of the book centers around his and her history and a lot of sexual tension, which just seemed irrelevant to me. In fact, Julia’s role in the story is so completely unnecessary that the filmmakers were able to completely remove her from the story without upsetting even a single element of the plot.

Like I said: I’m still not sure which series of events I prefer; the more predictable but satisfying movie version where Kate finally passes away after a long battle with cancer, or the much more dramatic and upsetting ending where Anna unexpectedly dies in a car accident. Either way, this isn’t a book I can read over and over again. As a mother and a human being, it’s just too hard to read about this family’s struggles and heartache, but I do think it is a book worth reading, even if you find the subject matter controversial.

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