WISH YOU WERE HERE
By: Jodi Picoult
Published: November 30, 2021
Publisher: Ballantine Books
As a long-time fan of Jodi Picoult (I’ve even met her in person) I wasn’t sure I would enjoy a novel set during the pandemic. It is a topic I don’t want to hear about anymore and try to avoid the topic if at all possible. I wasn’t even sure I would like her newest book because a few of her’s have been a disappointment for me. But, don’t let this pandemic story turn you away. This grabbed my attention from the very beginning and pulled me all the way through with a few tears as well as some moments of reflection.
This is what Jodi Picoult said about writing this book:
When the pandemic first started, I couldn’t concentrate on anything else—IJodi Picoult
couldn’t write. I couldn’t even read. I was quarantined at home, paralyzed
with fear at what COVID would do to my asthmatic lungs. When I was
finally able to start working again, all I wondered was: How are we going
to chronicle this pandemic? How do we tell the tale of how the world shut
down, and why, and what we learned?
Diana O’Toole is about to land her largest art sale in her time at Sotheby’s. Her boyfriend, Finn, is a surgical resident in NYC and has mentioned this weird virus that they are starting to see at the hospital. All Diana can think about is closing the sale of the world-famous painting and then jumping on a plane with Finn for their romantic vacation (she is expecting a proposal) to the Galapagos Islands. The night before they are to leave, Finn reveals he can’t possibly go on the trip. Every available person is needed at the hospital as cases of the virus are rising rapidly. Diana can’t believe what he is saying. This virus can’t be that bad. He tells her to go anyway so they don’t waste their non-refundable trip and by the time she comes back, this will all be over.
As soon as Diana lands on the island she wonders if she made a huge mistake. The island has shut down, her luggage is lost, and she is stranded alone until the borders reopen. As she ventures out around the island and learns to be by herself, a new Diana emerges. A chance meeting with a teenage girl on the island moves her to reach out and get to know the girl and why she saw her cutting her arms.
As you can imagine, this novel is full of huge emotions. While Diana is on the island, WIFI is spotty and her few emails from Finn detail the exhaustion and devastation the virus is causing in the hospital. In Diana’s tropical bubble, she can’t imagine the horror and also begins to question her relationship with Finn. When the two-week window of quarantine has passed without any sign of it being lifted, Diana wonders if she will ever make it home again and if she does, will Finn be the same?
But if you have to remember to miss the love of your life…does that mean he’s not the love of your life?Jodi Picoult, WISH YOU WERE HERE
This compulsively readable fiction is similar to recent books by Laurie Frankel or Taylor Jenkins Reed. A shocking twist at the center of the novel, which is trademark Picoult, will send you reeling and turning back the pages for clues. There are themes of betrayal, family dynamics, forgiveness, and renewal. Picoult immerses you in the beauty and peacefulness of the Galapagos. Her use of metaphors, while Finn is drowning at the hospital and for Diana’s experiences on the island, is so completely spot on that I highlighted passages in nearly every chapter.
There are two ways of looking at walls. Either they are built to keep people you fear out or they are built to keep people you love in. Either way, you create a divide.Jodi Picoult, WISH YOU WERE HERE
In the book, Picoult references a COVID story in the Cedar Rapids Gazette which was surprising as that is near where I live. I tried to find the news story she was referencing to see if it was true, but was not able to find any links to similar stories so I’m not sure if that part of the story is fictional or not. She also writes that Diana’s mom in the story grew up in McGregor, Iowa. I would love to know why she chose this very small town in Iowa near where I grew up along the Mississippi Rivier and what its significance was. It isn’t often there are Iowa references in stories, especially one set in NYC and the Galapagos Islands. But, fellow Iowans will appreciate the connection.
Grief, it turns out, is a lot like a one-sided video conversation on an iPad. It’s the call with no response, the echo of affection, the shadow cast by love. But just because you can’t see it anymore doesn’t make it any less real.Jodi Picoult, WISH YOU WERE HERE
Picoult’s character, Diana, has planned out her whole life and everything was falling into place when COVID hit. I am sure there are a lot of readers that will be able to relate to the incredulous feelings, the frustration, the fear, and unfortunately, the grief that hit many of us during these long pandemic months. Even though you may feel like a story set during a pandemic isn’t for you, I urge you to give this one a try. Picoult takes great care to not bury the reader in the hot-button issues or overload us with details. There is just enough to remind us that we are, much like Diana and Finn, resilient and yet forever changed by the pandemic.
“You can’t plan your life, Finn,” I say quietly. “Because then you have a plan. Not a life.”Jodi Picoult, WISH YOU WERE HERE
Click HERE to read an excerpt from WISH YOU WERE HERE. This would make an excellent choice for book clubs and Picoult has created a comprehensive book club kit including discussion questions, recipes from the story, a music playlist, and photos from her own research trip to the Galapagos Islands. Get the kit, HERE.