2021 Ballantine Books
Finished on June 19, 2022
Rating: 4.5/5 (Very Good)
Publisher's Blurb:Diana O’Toole is perfectly on track. She will be married by thirty, done having kids by thirty-five, and move out to the New York City suburbs, all while climbing the professional ladder in the cutthroat art auction world. She’s an associate specialist at Sotheby’s now, but her boss has hinted at a promotion if she can close a deal with a high-profile client. She’s not engaged just yet, but she knows her boyfriend, Finn, a surgical resident, is about to propose on their romantic getaway to the Galapagos—days before her thirtieth birthday. Right on time.
But then a virus that felt worlds away has appeared in the city, and on the eve of their departure, Finn breaks the news: It’s all hands on deck at the hospital. He has to stay behind. You should still go, he assures her, since it would be a shame for all of their nonrefundable trip to go to waste. And so, reluctantly, she goes.
Almost immediately, Diana’s dream vacation goes awry. Her luggage is lost, the Wi-Fi is nearly nonexistent, and the hotel they’d booked is shut down due to the pandemic. In fact, the whole island is now under quarantine, and she is stranded until the borders reopen. Completely isolated, she must venture beyond her comfort zone. Slowly, she carves out a connection with a local family when a teenager with a secret opens up to Diana, despite her father’s suspicion of outsiders.
In the Galapagos Islands, where Darwin’s theory of natural selection was formed, Diana finds herself examining her relationships, her choices, and herself—and wondering if when she goes home, she too will have evolved into someone completely different.
Wow. This turned out to be a powerful and thought-provoking read. In some ways it's nothing like Picoult's previous novels; there is no courtroom drama and no alternating points-of-view. And yet, I was immediately drawn into this timely story, nodding my head as Picoult reminds us of those first terrible months of the pandemic. As I got further into the book, however, I began to feel impatient. I was quite sure I knew exactly where the author was leading me, irritated that her plot had become predictable and almost tedious. Boy, was I ever wrong! I won't say anything more, so as not to spoil the story, but I will say that this is an exceptional book. The characters and details of the Covid pandemic are remarkably genuine, the book reading like nonfiction. Some may say it's too soon to chronicle the horrors of the pandemic, but I didn't mind reading it a little over two years after the United States went into full lockdown. I devoured Joyce Maynard's coming-of-age novel, The Usual Rules, which was published two years after 9/11, and I've sought out and read books on grief just months after a personal loss. It's through the written word that I find answers to the unimaginable and Jodi Picoult's latest work paints a vivid portrait of our shared experience of this global pandemic. Isolation, survival, and resilience are just a few themes that make this novel a terrific book group choice. There is plenty to discuss, with the caveat that everyone is prepared to discuss all spoilers. Highly recommend. (Knocked down half a point for the uneven pacing in the first half of the book.)