Review: A Spark of Light by Jodi Picoult

Title: A Spark of Light by Jodi Picoult
Publisher: Ballantine Books
Genre: Conemprary, Literary Fiction
Length: 384 pages
Book Rating: B+

Complimentary Review Copy Provided by Publisher Through NetGalley


The #1 New York Times bestselling author of Small Great Things returns with a powerful and provocative new novel about ordinary lives that intersect during a heart-stopping crisis.

The warm fall day starts like any other at the Center—a women’s reproductive health services clinic—its staff offering care to anyone who passes through its doors. Then, in late morning, a desperate and distraught gunman bursts in and opens fire, taking all inside hostage.

After rushing to the scene, Hugh McElroy, a police hostage negotiator, sets up a perimeter and begins making a plan to communicate with the gunman. As his phone vibrates with incoming text messages he glances at it and, to his horror, finds out that his fifteen-year-old daughter, Wren, is inside the clinic.

But Wren is not alone. She will share the next and tensest few hours of her young life with a cast of unforgettable characters: A nurse who calms her own panic in order to save the life of a wounded woman. A doctor who does his work not in spite of his faith but because of it, and who will find that faith tested as never before. A pro-life protester, disguised as a patient, who now stands in the cross hairs of the same rage she herself has felt. A young woman who has come to terminate her pregnancy. And the disturbed individual himself, vowing to be heard.

Told in a daring and enthralling narrative structure that counts backward through the hours of the standoff, this is a story that traces its way back to what brought each of these very different individuals to the same place on this fateful day.

Jodi Picoult—one of the most fearless writers of our time—tackles a complicated issue in this gripping and nuanced novel. How do we balance the rights of pregnant women with the rights of the unborn they carry? What does it mean to be a good parent? A Spark of Light will inspire debate, conversation . . . and, hopefully, understanding.


A Spark of Light by Jodi Picoult is a fast-paced, thought-provoking novel which features a topical storyline.

Detective Lieutenant Hugh McElroy is a veteran hostage negotiator who is in the midst of a harrowing negotiation with a  gunman holding hostages at a local woman’s health center which also performs abortions. George Goddard burst into the Center hours earlier and after killing and wounding several of the people inside, the situation remains tense as Hugh attempts to convince him to free the hostages. The first victim Goddard releases is Hugh’s older sister, Bex, who is seriously wounded. The remaining hostages include Hugh’s fifteen year old daughter Wren, Dr. Louie Ward who is also gravely wounded, anti-abortion protestor Janine Deuerre, nurse Izzy Walsh, client Joy Perry and patient Olive Lemay.

With the narrative moving back in time, the chapters provide compelling insight to each of the hostages as they undergo this horrifying ordeal.  Dr. Ward is a gentle man who feels called to provide this service although he is deeply religious. Wren is wracked with guilt for keeping the appointment from Hugh.  Janine remains true to her pro-life stance but she is somewhat taken aback by what she learns during her time at the Center. Izzy goes into professional mode as she treats the wounded and calms the hostages. Despite never having children, Olive is extremely protective of Wren.  Joy knows she made the right choice for herself but she also harbors regret for what might have been. Bex is contemplative as she reflects back on her life as she lies wounded. Goddard’s motive for his actions at the Clinic are gradually revealed over the course of the novel.

With the novel set in Mississippi, there are restrictive abortion laws which are somewhat unfairly slanted to protect the developing fetus. This unfortunate circumstance is spotlighted in  a parallel story arc in which a teenager finds herself in unexpected legal trouble after she is rushed to the hospital for emergency care. Despite her age, the Assistant District Attorney intends to prosecute her to the fullest extent of the law and he plans to use the case to further his political career.

A Spark of Light by is a powerful novel that presents both sides of an extremely controversial, emotional and politically charged topic. Jodi Picoult’s extensive research adds incredible depth to the plot but some of the subject matter is described in graphic detail. Both sides of the abortion issue are presented and while personal opinions might not be changed, hopefully readers will glean a greater understanding of opposing viewpoints. I highly recommend this outstanding novel to readers of the genre.

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