Difficult to categorize and impossible to ignore, Jodi Picoult books are notable for their brilliantly nuanced characters, pitch-perfect descriptions of suburbia (and the darkness it often conceals), and unfettered insight into the shape-shifting terrain of family relationships. Published in 37 languages, there are over 19 million Jodi Picoult books in print worldwide. This highly popular fiction writer has a prolific body of work that includes Songs of the Humpback Whale (1992), Harvesting the Heart (1993), Picture Perfect (1995), Salem Falls (2001) and Second Glance (2003), the last being her personal favorite of all her best selling books. Picoult's first novel to debut as a #1 New York Times bestseller was Nineteen Minutes (2007), a deeply affecting work that follows the aftermath of a small-town school shooting. It was followed in 2008 by Change of Heart, a taut psychological drama about a death row prisoner who wants to donate his heart to the half sister/daughter of his victims. Critically lauded, it was the second of several other Jodi Picoult books to debut as a #1 New York Times bestseller. Picoult's streak of best selling books continued in 2010 with House Rules, a psychological drama about a teenage boy with Asperger's Syndrome, who has a rare, almost supernatural knack for forensic analysis. Meeting with rave reviews, the novel once again debuted as a #1 New York Times bestseller, which has become something of a tradition for Jodi Picoult books. A self-professed workaholic, the popular fiction writer says there's nothing she'd rather be doing than telling stories. "I write quickly, but I also do not believe in writer's block, because once I didn't have the luxury of believing it. When you only have twenty minutes, you write—whether it's garbage, or it's good...you just DO it, and you fix it later." She lives in New Hampshire with her husband and three children.
Between the Lines
JUST SO YOU KNOW, WHEN THEY SAY “ ONCE UPON
a time” . . . they’re lying.
It’s not once upon a time. It’s not even twice upon a time. It’s hundreds of times, over and over, every time someone opens up the pages of this dusty old book.
“Oliver,” my best friend says. “Checkmate.”
I follow Frump’s gaze and stare down at the chessboard, which isn’t really a chessboard at all. It’s just squares scratched onto the sand of Everafter Beach, and a bunch of accommodating fairies who don’t mind acting as pawns and bishops and queens. There isn’t a chess set in the story, so we have to make do with what we’ve got, and of course we have to clean up all evidence when we’re done, or else someone might assume that there is more to the story than what they know.
I can’t remember when I first realized that life, as I knew it, wasn’t real. That this role I performed over and over was just that—a role. And that in order for me to play it, there had to be another party involved—namely one of those large, round, flat faces that blurred the sky above us every time the story began. The relationships you see on the page aren’t always, as they seem. When we’re not acting our parts, we’re all just free to go about our business. It’s quite complicated, really. I’m Prince Oliver, but I’m not Prince Oliver. When the book is closed, I can stop pretending that I’m interested in Seraphima or that I’m fighting a dragon, and instead I can hang out with Frump or taste the concoctions Queen Maureen likes to dream up in the kitchen or take a dip in the ocean with the pirates, who are actually quite nice fellows. In other words, we all have lives outside the lives that we play when a Reader opens the book. For everyone else here, that knowledge is enough. They’re happy repeating the story endlessly, and staying trapped onstage even when the Readers are gone. But me, I’ve always wondered. It stands to reason that if I have a life outside of this story, so do the Readers whose faces float above us. And they’re not trapped inside the book. So where exactly are they? And what do they do when the book is closed?
Once, a Reader—a very young one—knocked the book over and it fell open on a page that has no one but me written into it. For a full hour, I watched the Otherworld go by. These giants stacked bricks made of wood, with letters written on their sides, creating monstrous buildings. They dug their hands into a deep table filled with the same sort of sand we have on Everafter Beach. They stood in front of easels, like the one Rapscullio likes to use when he paints, but these artists used a unique style—dipping their hands into the paint and smearing it across the paper in swirls of color. Finally, one of the Others, who looked to be as old as Queen Maureen, leaned forward and frowned. “Children! This is not how we treat books,” she said, before shutting me out.
When I told the others what I had seen, they just shrugged. Queen Maureen suggested I see Orville about my strange dreams and ask for a sleeping potion. Frump, who is my best friend both inside the story and out, believed me. “What difference does it make, Oliver?” he asked. “Why waste time and energy thinking about a place or a person you’ll never be?” Immediately I regretted bringing it up.
Everywhere I look, there are signs of a struggle. The mail has been scattered all over the kitchen floor; the stools are overturned. The phone has
been knocked off its pedestal, its battery pack hanging loose from an umbilicus of wires. There’s one single faint footprint at the threshold of
the living room, pointing toward the dead body of my son, Jacob.
He is sprawled like a starfish in front of the fireplace. Blood covers his temple and his hands. For a moment, I can’t move, can’t breathe.
Suddenly, he sits up. “Mom,” Jacob says, “you’re not even trying.”
This is not real, I remind myself, and I watch him lie back down in the exact same positionÑon his back, his legs twisted to the left.
“Um, there was a fight,” I say.
Jacob’s mouth barely moves. “And . . . ?”
“You were hit in the head.” I get down on my knees, like he’s told me to do a hundred times, and notice the crystal clock that usually sits on
the mantel now peeking out from beneath the couch. I gingerly pick it up and see blood on the corner. With my pinkie, I touch the liquid and then taste it. “Oh, Jacob, don’t tell me you used up all my corn syrup again”
I sink down on the couch, cradling the clock in my hands. “Robbers came in, and you fought them off.”
Jacob sits up and sighs. The food dye and corn syrup mixture has matted his dark hair; his eyes are shining, even though they won’t meet mine. “Do you honestly believe I’d execute the same crime scene twice?” He unfolds a fist, and for the first time I see a tuft of corn silk hair. Jacob’s
father is a towheadÑor at least he was when he walked out on us fifteen years ago, leaving me with Jacob and Theo, his brand-new, blond baby brother.
“Theo killed you?”
“Seriously, Mom, a kindergartner could have solved this case,” Jacob says, jumping to his feet. Fake blood drips down the side of his face, but
he doesn’t notice; when he is intensely focused on crime scene analysis, I think a nuclear bomb could detonate beside him and he’d never flinch. He walks toward the footprint at the edge of the carpet and points. Now, at second glance, I notice the waffle tread of the Vans skateboarding sneakers that Theo saved up to buy for months, and the latter half of the company logo ns burned into the rubber sole. “There was a confrontation in the kitchen,” Jacob explains. “It ended with the phone being thrown in defense, and me being chased into the living room, where Theo clocked me.”
At that, I have to smile a little. “Where did you hear that term?”
“CrimeBusters, episode forty-three.”
“Well, just so you knowÑit means to punch someone. Not hit them with an actual clock.”
Jacob blinks at me, expressionless. He lives in a literal world; it’s one of the hallmarks of his diagnosis.
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