Review: Vanishing Acts

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Delia Hopkins has led a charmed life. Raised in rural New Hampshire by her beloved, widowed father, she now has a young daughter, a handsome fiancé, and her own search-and-rescue bloodhound, which she uses to find missing persons. But as Delia plans her wedding, she is plagued by flashbacks of a life she can’t recall…until a policeman knocks on her door, revealing a secret about herself that changes the world as she knows it—and threatens to jeopardize her future.

Amazon

This is my review for Vanishing Acts by Jodi Picoult

I intend to use the ***ASPECT method for my discussion and will not spoil the ending.

A quick note before I begin:

I jokingly tell people that I am a goldfish. My memory is… not that great. (That is part of the reason I like to write book reviews or debate books in book clubs… if I talk/write about a book, I am MUCH more likely to remember it.)

The trope in fiction where someone who can’t remember their life or whose memories have been wiped or something along those lines… is a very appealing trope to me. I find it fascinating. 

Why THIS book?

You guess it… This book has that trope. At least it says it does on the back. That’s why I picked it up. I was in a drugstore waiting for my COVID vaccine appointment and I had forgotten my book. They also told me that after I got the shot, I would have to wait another 15-20 minutes before I could leave to make sure there was no adverse reaction. So… naturally, the kiddo and I headed over to the paperback book section because you cannot be stuck in a waiting area for 30 minutes with no book. It goes against the laws of nature. In the sixty seconds, I gave myself to pick a book, I picked this one. I knew I had read something else by this author at some point (even if at the moment I couldn’t remember what it was… more on that later) and I knew it was an author one of my friends has read a lot. (Hi Melanie!) Plus… it had that memory is a fickle thing trope. So I bought it and started reading it right there in Rite Aid.

Atmosphere 

Modern-day. Realistic. And then… magic religion, stuff. This might be an unpopular opinion, but I prefer that magic stuff stay in speculative fiction and not bleed over into contemporary fiction. This book… is at once totally rooted in reality and then takes a few detours through magic users and Native and Mexican folklore and rituals. And… ok, it isn’t like Picoult tells us about characters who believe in supernatural things and leaves it at that… no. Some of those supernatural things are real, real I tell you! Feathers near a kid can give her a fever and she is all better the second, the second, those feathers are tossed outside. That one example but there are other things as well and I found it off-putting. 

There is also the issue of… cultural appropriation? Maybe? The main character sees herself as white but it turns out she is half Mexican. Cool. But then there is a rather large portion of the book where she meets, bonds with, and participates in the rituals of an Arizona Native tribe. She gets really into it and… I don’t know. The way she describes her inclusion made me feel… off. The climax of this subplot centers a Native woman’s tragedy on our protagonist to help her… learn a lesson? Maybe? Really though that whole bit had nothing really to do with the overall plot. Is there a “magical Native woman” trope like the “magical negro” trope? Because this was that. 

But wait… that wasn’t the only BIPOC character… no…  There is also another character who is a type of Mexican medicine woman/witch and the way she is described and her dialogue seems… one dimensional and problematic. Toss in that the true villains of this work are both BIPOC and I just felt… icky.

Plot/Pacing

Let’s talk about the plot. It was a pretty simple story, easy to follow, etc. But boy howdy does it get stretched out for far too long. Not only is there the whole Native American subplot side quest stuff that seems really important until it is forgotten about, but we also have one of the most annoying tropes in all of literature. People Not Talking To One Another. 

Yes, I know. Lots of stories just wound’ exist if people actually talked to one another. But egads it is annoying. Especially when people are like “I have so many questions… but instead I am going to say something and then leave the room and drive away!” It is double frustrating when those same characters later are complaining that they weren’t told things. DUDE! You had the chance to talk and you didn’t! 

Another thing about the plot… there was a “twist” at the end that… a-wasn’t a twist and b-was predictable. Worse, it didn’t add much to the story but it could have had it come up earlier. Maybe. 

Style / Characters

Picoult changes the character POV with every chapter. She rotates through our four main characters… with one chapter in the POV of another… but only that one. I think this is to make us see the wider context of the story… but all of these characters have almost the same voice. The ways the two competing love interests describe our main protagonist are mirrored to one another (and the rampant Not Like Other Girls stuff is gross). There is no distinct voice. For anyone. Everyone is sort of sympathetic, even our “bad guys” but only sort of. Everyone is flawed, even our “hero” but only sort of. These people were boring. 

Also, as I read I started to remember that the other Picoult book I read did the same character switching back and forth thing. I don’t know if this is a Picoult formula or if I just lucked out. 

Interesting diatribe time

I looked it up. Almost 12 years ago I reviewed Picoult’s book My Sister’s Keeper then reviewed the movie… then wrote about how they compared. I am going to resist the temptation to go copy edit and update my original words (this is a difficult thing to do) but here are the three blog posts from 2009!

I am pretty sure that writing those posts was where I first started thinking about how to do a bigger “movies based on books” project. And yeah…. It took nine years before Pages and Popcorn Podcast was launched, but it is fun to see the beginning of that idea. (And now I know what my eventual (but not for a very long time) final episode of Pages and Popcorn will be… My Sister’s Keeper, revisited!)

Entertaining 

I personally feel that in Rite Aid that day, I would have been better served by playing a game on my phone or by trying to access my kindle books on the kindle app (I think it got uninstalled off my phone) than buying and then reading this book. It added nothing new to my life and will be forgettable except maybe serving as a warning that maybe Picoult isn’t for me. In the end… I didn’t care what happened to any of these people and event the twist and the disquiet and fear that it should have given me fell on its face.

Would I recommend it?

If you are a Picoult fan… and I feel like there are a zillion of you out there, then yes. This seems like a pretty standard Picoult book. But then again… if you are a Picoult fan, you have probably already read it.

One last note:

This book came out in 2005. Had it been written in 1995, I am fairly certain it would have been a Lifetime movie. Your mileage will vary on if you see that as a positive or a negative.



*** ASPECT Method (I created this, I used it, feel free to do the same.)

A Atmosphere: How did it make me feel? What was the world like? This might include the overall tone.

S Style: What was the writing style like? Simplistic or sophisticated? Clunky or beautiful?

P Plot/Pace: Was it engaging? Were there holes? Did it feel too rushed or too long?

E Enjoyment: Was it a chore to finish or compelling enough that I picked it over other fun activities?

C Characters: Were they believable, sympathetic, interesting?

T This? Why did I read *This* book?


Thank you for your support!


Feel free to tell me what you think in the comments or send me an email.


Published by kayliametcalfe

Queer,loudmouth,skeptical-agnostic-pagan,book addict,coffee lover,wine drinker, SAHM,writer,editor,producer,podcaster. -She/her

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