Vanishing Acts – Jodi Picoult

Posted 28 March, 2009 by Trish in Reading Nook, Review / 30 Comments


Title: Vanishing Acts
Author: Jodi Picoult
Date Finished: March 27, 2009 #15
Published: 2005 Pages: 418
Rating: 3.5/5

It’s funny how a year ago when Picoult’s book, Change of Heart, was being released, the book blogging community was all abuzz. This year, with her new release, all is quiet–I couldn’t even tell you the name without looking it up. It seems that people either love Picoult’s work or strongly dislike it, although lately I’ve seen more negative reviews for Picoult’s work than any other author (emphasis on it seems). And I think that after reading my 8th book by Picoult, some of my own excitement has died down.

Delia Hopkins does search and rescue for a living. She and her bloodhound, Greta, find children who have gone missing, teenagers who have runaway, and even sometimes a child who has been snatched by someone else. What Delia doesn’t know is that when she was four years old her own father kidnapped her and took her across the country to start a new life. It isn’t until her father, Andrew, is arrested that Delia’s life and the delicately spun web of lies she has lived for 28 years begins to unravel.

Like many of her other novels, Vanishing Acts is told from the points of view of several of the main characters–Delia, her father Andrew, her fiance Eric, and her best friend Fitz. Through these four narratives, we are taken on a ride that will make you question your own memories and perceptions of reality, make you question what is right and what is wrong, and the ethics of doing what is best when is it clearly against the law. I love that Picoult uses the different perspectives and voices to tell her stories, especially as we then get to learn things we wouldn’t be privy to know otherwise–what it is like for Andrew in prison, Delia’s predicament on whether to support her father or to make amends with her mother, Eric’s battle with alcoholism, Fitz’s unrequited love for Delia. Complicated storylines that are best told from each party.

The bottomline: I liked Vanishing Acts and I liked it almost as much as I expected to like it. It is one of the better ones that I’ve read (although not my favorite). I’m sure you’ve heard people say Picoult is a formulaic writer, and she absolutely is. Is that a bad thing? As long as the formula is working, I don’t think it is a bad thing. I tend to stay away from formula writers, but Picoult’s formula has worked well for me. It keeps me on the edge of my seat and turning the pages.

So why has some of the excitement worn away? One of the things that I love about Picoult is that she is continually blurring the lines between what is right and wrong. Kind of like that old dilemma of whether or not it is OK to steal bread to feed your starving family. After 8 books, I guess I get the point. Life isn’t black and white, but rather a funny shade of gray. It wasn’t that this book didn’t do as good of a job of looking at ethical decisions, its just that it didn’t feel novel anymore. I knew what was coming–and I suspect that as I continue to read her books the formula will still be gripping, but a little more loosely. A little more tired.

30 Responses to “Vanishing Acts – Jodi Picoult”

  1. I’ve never read anything by Jodi Picoult. I once checked out My Sister’s Keeper (I think that’s what it was called) from the library, but never got around to it. I think her massive popularity scares me. That and the formulaic book thing. I’m not sure if I’d like her.

  2. I enjoy Picoult’s books (some more than others, of course) but I think you’re right people either like them or really dislike them. She is a formulaic writer, but sometimes that’s comforting.

  3. *Amanda – I really don’t know if you would like her stuff or not. My Sister’s Keeper is one of my favorites by her.

    *Bermuda – Like I said–as long as the formula is working, it isn’t a bad thing. And I think her topics are varied enough that it has continued to work for her and her readers.

    *Alyce – Thanks Alyce! I’ll pop over and see what you left.

    *Verbatim – I really liked The Pact, but I read it almost 10 years ago so I don’t know what I would think if I re-read it now. My Sister’s Keeper is probably my favorite and I liked Keeping Faith as well. I guess out of 8 this would be 4.

  4. I agree. The only one of Picoult’s books that I really enjoyed and actually read all the way through was Salem Falls. I have tried others (Nineteen Minutes, Keeping Faith, The Pact) I couldn’t get interested in any of those.

  5. I’ve read a few by this Picoult and really enjoyed the ones I read. But then I stopped reading her for awhile and I haven’t taken the time to pick her back up again. My favorite by her is My Sister’s Keeper but as I heard they changed the ending, I don’t want to see the movie. I haven’t had a chance to read this one but I will eventually :) Great review!

  6. I have read a handful of Picoult’s books–four, I think–and enjoyed each of them. This one to a lesser degree, but I still liked it. I understand what you are saying about her books. I think that’s part of the reason I haven’t rushed out to read her other ones. I want to because I like her writing and how she tackles such controversial issues and offers up different sides of it, but sometimes space between books is a good thing. At least I’ve found that to be true with Picoult.

  7. I read Vanishing Acts last year, the first Picoult book I’ve ever read.

    If you click on my name, that should take you straight to my review.

  8. I have really wanted to try some of her books, but still haven’t gotten around to it. In fact, I’ve managed to pick up a few of them at library sales and such. Not sure why I haven’t actually cracked one open yet…just the too little time thing, I guess. I agree that formulaic can get old…and then again, if it’s a formula that works, it can also be sort of comforting in small doses. Anyway, I LOVED this review, Trish! I feel like it really gave me a good idea of what to expect when I finally do pick up one of her books. Thanks! :)

  9. I loved your review too. I have nothing against the use of a formula plot-wise, but when I feel that the author is recycling the same point over and over with every book, then it disappoints me. I have stubbornly resisting Picoult and I’m not even sure why…one day I’ll cave, I’m sure :P

  10. I have to admit that Picoult is definitely hit and miss for me but after just attending her book reading and signing I don’t think I’ll be able to read her books objectively again. She was just so darn nice! Upbeat, energetic, genuine. By the way, I’m giving away seven signed Picoult books on my blog right now.

  11. I’m with you, Trish! I don’t mind reading anything ‘formulaic’ as long as it keeps the readers interested into reading them!

    I read this book a while back and enjoyed it, though I’ve to say My Sister’s Keeper remains my favourite.

  12. *Diane – I think this one is somewhere in the middle for me. Which are your favorites?

    *Missy – I read Salem Falls last year; a lot of people really like that one. Have you tried My Sister’s Keeper?

    *Sam – For a while I was devouring her work, but then I started slowing down because I was running out of her books. :) Hmmm–interesting about the movie. I can’t see the ending happening any other way.

    *Literary Feline – I definitely agree that space between an author’s books can sometimes be a good thing. Do you have a favorite by her?

    *Myrthe – Thanks for coming by! Do you plan on reading more by her?

  13. My fav Picoult book was the first one I read, probably because I didn’t know what to expect. I still enjoy her books, but need to put a LOT of time between them or they just feel like more of the same.

  14. You know I don’t remember this story all that well for some reason. I’ve read most of Picoult’s books and I have to say I think I like the earlier ones better. I wasn’t at all fond of Change of Heart I think it was. I’m hoping this year’s will be better but I’m waiting for it from the library this time around.

  15. Rae

    I have to admit, this is one of the first reviews I’ve read all the way through, mostly because you read books that are over my head! Haha. I always scan through for personal tidbits. :) But of course I read this whole review because I LOVE Jodi Picoult.

  16. *Debi – Her subjects are usually different enough that each book has its own charm–and it must be a formula that works for many because of all the dang books she is selling!! :) Which ones do you have on your shelf?

    *Nymeth – After 8 books I do feel like she is recycling a bit. I’m not sure if you would love Picoult’s books, but I think you would find the subject matter interesting.

    *Natasha – My step-mom and I were going to go to her book signing here in Dallas until we found out that we had to go earlier in the day to get tickets. Since we both work all day and couldn’t get my transient sister to get the tickets for us, we had to skip it. I would have loved to hear her speak, though! I’d love to hear more about what you thought–will you be doing a post?? Hint hint.

    *S. Krishna – My Sister’s Keeper is definitely my favorite by her. I hope you like her books!

    *Melody – Like I just told Swapna, My Sister’s Keeper is my favorite so far as well. And for the most part her formula does work for me–I just wish she’d switch it up a little.

  17. *Melissa – I think space between the books helps make them a little fresher. My top favorites are the ones that I read first as well. Which ones have you read?

    *Dar – I haven’t even read Change of Heart yet! I had to rush out and get it hard copy and then never bothered to read it. :) I’ll get to it one of these days. Have you noticed style changes throughout the years?

    *Rae – Oh pish posh silly girl! There are very few things that I read that are over anyone’s head!! Twilight? Come on!! :)

  18. Trish, I don’t know so much if I’ve noticed style changes. I think she pretty much sticks to the same style but it seems she’ll have a couple of good ones and then one not so good and then she’ll come back with another really good one. Like I said I’ll keep reading hers but I will get them from the library instead of forking out the big bucks.

  19. I actually had Handle With Care checked out from the library shortly after it came out, but that meant a two-week, no-renewals loan period and it was just not on the top of my list for reading. I’ve been waiting to see a review of it, but you’re right that the internet is strangely silent on this one.

    Also, I liked Vanishing Acts when I read it and I felt the same way you do — Picoult does her thing well, but it’s always the same thing.

  20. I think the excitement has been dying down because Picoult’s last few books seemed to have been “phoned in”! I really don’t think she is taking the time to write books well, even though she is still finding really interesting topics to write about. I have been so disappointed in her last couple of books that I don’t even plan to read her new one and I used to be so excited when she had a new book coming out – I would be there as soon as the shop opened to purchase a copy!

  21. I’ve got Nineteen Minutes, My Sister’s Keeper, Salem Falls, and The Pact. Got a suggestion for which might be the best to start with?

  22. *Dar – I feel the same way–she’s on my radar, but I’m not feeling compelled to rush out and get the shiny hardcover copy anymore.

    *Alison – Does that mean that you didn’t read Handle with Care once you got your hands on it? Still haven’t seen a review for it…strange.

    *Karen – I think she writes the books fairly quickly, and I guess if that works for her it does. I think she already has another one ready to be published and is finishing another for 2011!

    *Debi – My Sister’s Keeper is definitely my favorite. The Pact was my first book by her and I really liked that one. Salem Falls and then Nineteen Minutes. How’s that? :)

  23. I agree with everything you said. I’ve read several Picoult books, not as many as you, though, and found something to like in each of them. However, I haven’t been real excited about her newest book, and I’m not even sure whether I want to read it. I think out of the ones I’ve read Nineteen Minutes was my favorite.

    Diary of an Eccentric

  24. Trish, no, I didn’t read it! I thought about it, but I wasn’t going to pay the fine to do it and I definitely wasn’t going to want to read it by the time it was due. I’m still waiting to see a review of it before I go for it… have you seen one yet?

  25. *Anna – Nineteen Minutes actually wasn’t one of my favorites, but by that time I had already read several of her books. Have you tried My Sister’s Keeper? That seems to be a favorite among many (including me).

    *Alison – I’m late in responding to these comments (eep!!), but I still haven’t seen a review for Picoult’s new book! My step-mom read it and liked it, but she’s the only one I’ve heard anything from.