The Storyteller by Jodi Picoult Review
Book Details: Standalone adult historical fiction novel
Publication Information: 5/11/2013 by Atria/Emily Bestler Books
“History isn’t about dates and places and wars. It’s about the people who fill the spaces between them.”
Sage Singer doesn’t like labels. She’s not a Jew, like her grandmother, but she’s not an atheist. She’s not in a relationship but she’s definitely not single. All she knows is that she’s a grieving baker and now maybe – just maybe – she might be a friend.
Enter Josef Weber. For years and years he was a well-known man in the community. He coached the baseball team, he taught German at the high school, and all the students and parents loved him. Now, in his old age, he’s quiet without many friends. That is, until, he meets Sage Singer at the local bakery and decides that she just may be the one person he can trust. The one person who might just be able to help him with his horrific guilt over a harbored secret.
When it’s revealed, Sage is left questioning her entire life, family, and history. She needs to make a choice that will change her life… and most definitely Josef’s.
Pros and Cons
**Warning: While not necessary, I enjoyed going into this book without knowing too much about it. If that’s something you would like to do, too, I would suggest skipping this section and going to the “Final Thoughts” section. If not, enjoy this section which is essentially spoiler-free in the way that it doesn’t tell you anything you wouldn’t learn from the first 75 pages but does tell you more than you get from the synopsis**
I have yet to read a Jodi Picoult book that doesn’t leave me sobbing at the end. This book was no exception. While a lot of people criticize Jodi for having books that all seem to be the same (in the way that it’s some sort of American family that has an issue with some medical/court house/both situation which leads to their marriage suffering and then someone usually dies) this book was completely different than anything I’ve ever read from her before. Though it takes place in the present time, it really could be considered historical fiction due to the fact that this book centers mainly around the Holocaust. I loved the perspectives that we were given in this book. Like most Picoult stories, this one was told from different POVs – four to be exact. While two are from people who are pretty typical, the other two perspectives give us a very interesting – and pretty disturbing – perspective on events in history which I really enjoyed. This book was really wonderful in so many aspects. The ending left me so emotional and overwhelmed. My jaw literally dropped open and stayed open for about the last twenty pages.
Now, for the cons. I only have three, but they did bother me a lot throughout the reading experience. The issue with this story is that it covers such a large time period. You have two perspectives in the present day, and two perspectives that are composed pretty much completely of flashbacks to the Holocaust. You want to feel like you’re getting the full story from all angles, but when the story stays with one perspective for too long it gets a little tiring and honestly starts to feel like that one perspective could be an entirely separate book. For example, one of the perspectives lasted over 150 pages, broken up into two consecutive chapters which were composed of entirely flashbacks. It was difficult to get through not only because you were wondering what was going on with the rest of the story and also because it was pretty dark, heavy stuff. Again, you’re dealing mostly with the Holocaust here, and this story is totally different from The Book Thief, if you’re hoping for similarities. If you’re interested in that time period, great. But be warned – this book puts the level of darkness and violence in The Book Thief on the same level as that in The Little Engine That Could.
My second issue is that Jodi Picoult is so amazing at writing characters. This might not sound like an issue, but during the first section of the book she created all of these amazing characters but then barely used them in the story. You had a diverse community of people in the first 100 pages, and then for the next 300 you had about four until some of them came back at the end but maybe not at all. Of course, there were more characters included in the flashbacks, but it was hard to grow as attached to those characters because their were essentially seventy-five years old – they didn’t feel as real. Again, maybe if so much of the story wasn’t just flashbacks it would’ve been easier to connect to these characters.
Lastly: the plot twists. Jodi always weaves amazing stories that keep you guessing, but some of the smaller shock moments in this book fell a little flat. They happened so suddenly, so they were unexpected, but they also seemed kind of unimportant, because they just happened suddenly and it was over suddenly, leaving me saying “Oh” instead of “OMG”. With some of the bigger twists throughout the book, I wanted to scream at the characters like, How can you not realize what that means? It was most frustrating when characters were discussing things that seemed obvious to me would lead up to a twist but they couldn’t catch on, and it was also frustrating when I knew I had caught onto a detail that was supposed to be subtle but would lead up to a twist and be referenced later on.
So it probably sounds like I had a lot of issues with this book, and at some times I really was frustrated. However, this book was still absolutely incredible, and amazing, and mind-blowing. And while I did mention how I caught onto a lot of the twists, the ending was so beautiful and shocking and heartbreaking and maybe I should stop here so I don’t give anything else away. In my opinion, this book felt similar to Code Name Verity, although I enjoyed this one more. For me, it started out fast, but the middle was a little hard to get through because of so many flashbacks, while the ending stunned me. This is a book that I’ll never forget.
**I would highly recommend you pick this book up, but also only do it if you think you’re ready. Like most of her books, Jodi Picoult wrote a story that asks tough questions and also deals with tough issues. I would recommend this book only for adults and mature YA readers that are sure they are ready to handle it. It’s not at all a funny book, and it’s definitely not a lighthearted summer read. Its main focus is the Holocaust, and it doesn’t leave much to the imagination. Again, I would highly recommend, but I also don’t want to recommend a book that gives you nightmares so… be warned.
On a less ominous note, thanks for reading. :)**