~The rest of this review contains MAJOR SPOILERS~
I've been reading a lot of Picoult lately, and really enjoying her books. I was somewhat disappointed in this one, though. Maybe disappointed isn't the right word. It was a great read - a page turner I finished in less than 24 hours. But, while the story should have been achingly sad (and it was sad), I found myself not as moved as I thought I should be. I really did like Chris, and felt certain from the start that he had not murdered Emily. Because of this, I felt that the "surprise ending" (as I'm pretty sure Chris' confession was meant to be) was anti-climactic (at least in terms of it being a surprise in and of itself). I'd felt from the start there was as much chance he'd pulled the trigger as she had. Still, the way the trial unfolded afterwards was interesting - although the book seemed to rush ahead from that point, which was strange to me, as the author had spent so much time meticulously setting the stage for it throughout the whole book. Maybe that's where I felt the real sense of anti-climax; not at what happened, but at the speed with which she ran through describing it.
As with Picoult's other books, she's created a bunch of great characters. (I wonder who the "Kate" in her life is; so far, every book I've read has a character with that name, IIRC). I particularly loved Gus, and Michael, and (as I already mentioned), Chris. James managed to come through in the end. I suppose the character who disappointed me the most was Melanie. I'd really expected something better from her. I understood - to a point - her rage and her unwillingness to come down from the tower of grief and anger that she built for herself. But somehow, when she figured out that Emily had, somehow, at sometime, been sexually abused (at least that's how I interpreted her running from the courtroom and vomiting), I expected something more to come of that. I suppose it was impossible for any of the survivors to know about the creepy man at McDonald's, if Emily really had never told anyone about it. But I was severely disappointed in Melanie for never coming forward with the contents of the diary (or maybe it's more of a loose end that I feel Picoult left untied).
I also found myself angry - very angry - with Emily, of all people. Long before Chris had the realization, I'd decided that Emily was surpremely selfish (and possibly unforgiveably unloving) in allowing Chris to have any part at all in her suicide. Even if she was severely depressed and unbalanced, it should have been obvious that having him there when she died would have possibly disastrous consequences for him. I suppose the whole point is that she'd found herself in a situation which completely surpassed her ability to cope, and what we saw in the book was the result. But still, it made me angry at her for a whole variety of reasons.
Mostly, though, the story was just sad. How can something look so beautiful on the outside, and be so thoroughly rotten on the inside? (Chris and Emily's relationship, and Emily's emotional life being the "something"). I wonder if Emily would have still had problems being sexually involved with Chris even if she hadn't experienced that brief sexual abuse. Maybe the situation really was psychologically incestuous, in some way. Putting Emily aside (since her troubles are, after all, over), it's hard for me to picture Chris having anything resembling a happy life, in spite of the aquittal. Well, maybe eventually, but how could a complete life be devastated in this way without having lasting consequences? So, I finished the book feeling depressed, rather than uplifted, in spite of the "happy" outcome of the trial. Still, as I mentioned at the start, I felt that the book didn't really have as deep of an impact on me as I felt it could have, if a few things had been different.
Still, a fascinating read, and definitely worth the time spent reading it. 7.5 stars/10