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Imagine you exist so that your blood, your tissues, even your organs can be harvested to keep someone else alive. Imagine if that was your parents' master plan for you - to be a little baby donor. And imagine if the person you were keeping alive was your sister - a sister you genuinely love. That's what Anna's life is like.
Anna was genetically engineered to be a perfect match for her cancer-ridden older sister. Since birth, Anna has donated platelets, blood, her umbilical cord, and bone marrow as part of her family's struggle to lengthen Kate's life. Now, her mom wants her to donate a kidney in a last-ditch attempt to save her 16-year-old sister.
Anna's parents do love her - but the bottom line is that she was created to be Kate's marrow supplier. And Anna loves her parents - but she's having a hard time feeling really great about giving them what they are asking of her. She is so tired of all of the procedures, of all of the pain, of putting her own life on hold. And most of all, Anna loves Kate. She wants her sister to be around forever - she wants to grow up with her, healthy and strong. But is that even a possibility?
How far should any one person have to go? Where do you draw the line on what you are willing to give, what you are willing to do? Anna and her family are about to find out.
Spoiler alert! Some of the questions contain key elements of the plot. Do not read if you don't want to know what happens!
- Reread the prologue to My Sister's Keeper. Who is the speaker? Is it the same person you thought it was the first time you read it?
- Early in the legal proceedings, Anna watches her mother slip back into her lawyer role, and notes, "It is hard to believe that my mother used to do this for a living. She used to be someone else, once. I suppose we all were." Discuss the concept of change as it is presented in this story. While most of the characters seem to undergo a metamorphosis of sorts, some seem more adept at it than others. Who do you think is ultimately the most capable of undergoing change and why?
- Do you feel it was fair of Kate to ask Anna to refuse to donate a kidney, even though this seemed to be the only way for her to avoid the lifesaving transplant? Did Anna do the right thing, honoring Kate's wishes?
- What symbolic role does Jesse's pyromania play in this novel? At one point, Brian says "How does someone go from thinking that if he cannot rescue, he must destroy?" Why is it significant that Jesse has, in many respects, become the polar opposite of his father? What traits do they share?
- Do you feel that it's ethical to conceive a child that meets specific genetic requirements? Did your view change as the story progressed? Why or why not? Do you believe that there should be specific exceptions, such as the purpose of saving another person's life, or is this just a "slippery slope?"
- On page 142, Brian says that when rescuing someone from a fire, that "the safety of the rescuer is of a higher priority than the safety of the victim. Always." How does this apply to his role in his own family?
- Do you think Sara is a good mother? Do you sympathize with her? How does her martyrdom affect the rest of the family?
- People bring subjectivity to their interactions with others. For example, despite Julia and Campbell's attempts to remain unemotional and businesslike when they deal with one another, the past keeps clouding their interaction. The same goes for the interaction between Sara and Anna during the trial. Is there such a thing as an objective decision in the world of this story? Is anyone capable of being totally rational, or do emotions always come into play?
- On page 149, Brian is talking to Julia about astronomy and says, "Dark matter has a gravitational effect on other objects. You can't see it, you can't feel it, but you can watch something being pulled in its direction." How is this symbolic of Kate's illness?
- How does Anna's decision to pursue medical emancipation parallel Campbell's decision to end his relationship with Julia after his accident?
- My Sister's Keeper is told from many different viewpoints. Why do you think Jodi Picoult wrote it this way? How did hearing from each character change your opinions of them and of the situation?
- The epilogue talks about how the family moved on. How did they grieve? How did they survive? In what ways did Anna give life back to all of them, not just Kate?
If you liked this book, try
- Midwives by Chris Bohjalian
- The Time Traveler's Wife by Audrey Niffenegger
- The Secret Life of Bees by Sue Monk Kidd
- The Pact by Jodi Picoult
- Snow Flower and the Secret Fan by Lisa See
- The Memory Keeper's Daughter by Kim Edwards
Portions of this discussion guide are credited to the Simon & Schuster, about.com, and Jodi Picoult online reading guides for My Sister's Keeper.
Created in part with funds granted by the Oregon State Library under the Library Services and Technology Act, administered by the Oregon State Library.