Book: Salem Falls
Author: Jodi Picoult
Genre: Fiction/Crime/Small Town Life
Summary: A handsome stranger comes to the sleepy New England town of Salem Falls in hopes of burying his past: Once a teacher at a girls' prep school, Jack St. Bride was destroyed when a student's crush sparked a powder keg of accusation. Now, washing the dishes for Addie Peabody at the Do-Or-Diner, he slips quietly into his new routine, and Addie finds this unassuming man fitting easily inside her heart. But amid the rustic calm of Salem Falls, a quartet of teenage girls harbors dark secrets - and they maliciously target Jack with a shattering allegation. Now, at the center of a modern-day witch hunt, Jack is forced once again to proclaim his innocence: to a town searching for answers, to a justice system where truth becomes a slippery concept written in shades of gray, and to the woman who has come to love him. -Simon and Schuster, 2001.
I feel like writing a review for a Jodi Picoult novel is like writing a review of the Bible. So many people have read her novels that to add yet another to the enormous amount seems unnecessary. I heard about her a lot in the early 2000s, of course, but never bothered to read her work. I was a teenager at the time and anything that was popular nationwide was automatically rejected. Plus, whenever I read the summaries of her books, nothing really captured my interest. Then I told myself that I can't really give an opinion on Picoult if I've never read her work. Therefore, I told myself to find at least one book of hers that I could read and I picked this one. I've been told that her novels typically involve uncomfortable subjects and social commentary so while this choice isn't outside the norm, I think I may have picked one of the darker ones. Whoops.
Spoilers will be kept to a minimum. Also, I'm going to issue a small trigger warning for brief discussion of sexual assault, abuse, and violence.
Picoult based this story on The Crucible, a play that I enjoy immensely, if only because it is one of the few works I've ever read that has gotten me genuinely angry. Rarely ever do I feel genuine rage at the events of a story and Salem Falls definitely touched on that rage. I also believe that this book is still, unfortunately, very much pertinent to our social climate. It's something that could still be read today and it contains lessons that can still be learned.
She did a very good job balancing the two sides of the dilemma when it comes to rape and false accusations of rape. The power of truth versus the power of lies is a very heavy topic when handling a topic of this nature. When someone's life is ruined, regardless of whether or not it is his or her fault, it can far reaching consequences that I think even adults can barely fully comprehend. I'm not going to delve into social commentary here, but I just wanted to commend Picoult on her balanced view of the situation - there's no one you can really cheer for in terms of someone being wholly innocent and pure. Abbey is the closest character you might cheer for, and even then she still has her mild faults.
I thought Picoult did a good job with writing the teenagers with one exception and that exception will come later and with a major spoiler. The social hierarchy of teenagers is always painful to deal with, no matter what the generation, and while Picoult didn't delve into it as much for the sake of sticking with St. Bride, the brief glimpses you get are real enough.
I don't have much to criticize otherwise (save for the upcoming spoiler). The writing is good, the characters are realistically written and the setting is a true-to-life display of small town life.
[Spoiler] Now, for the spoiler. It didn't occur to me until just now as I was thinking about it, but the whole idea of Gillian accusing Jack of rape whether because he wouldn't touch her or because it's a way of getting attention or because she wants to use him as a stand-in for her father doesn't make much sense. Picoult establishes Gillian as a strange, but nice-sounding girl, not at all like the typical Queen Bee type of leader. There are later scenes to show that she's not as innocent and good as she looks, but, I think Picoult fails to set her up as a typical teenager with secrets. Gillian is too adult. This, of course, can be the product of the grooming and sexual abuse by her father. Only after you read that final scene of the book do certain hints piece themselves together, but even so, her accusation against Jack doesn't make much sense in the moment, before Gillian's secret is revealed. I feel as if her interest in Jack (the red herring so to speak) is not set up properly. I guess the few scenes that are supposed to set up her interest in Jack are enough, but it still seems too convenient. I needed to see more rebellious behavior, more of her dark side. I don't count her Wiccan practices as her dark side because she doesn't use it (at first) to ask for bad things. Picoult is trying to deliver that final punch in order to show that even Gillian isn't as black and white as she seems to be, but, in the end, I think it falls flat from the underdevelopment of her relationship with Jack.
Overall, I give Salem Falls a B+.
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