Thursday, August 30, 2007

Multiple Points of View

Recently, I have read two books that use multiple points of view to tell a story.

The first is The Floor of the Sky by Pamela Carter Joern. This title won an Alex Award for this year. In it, 16-year-old Lila comes to Nebraska to live with her grandmother, Toby, for the summer because she is pregnant. Because of her pregnancy, Lila is becoming estranged from her mother, much like Toby and Lila's mother have been for years. As the summer continues, some of the secrets that have kept each character isolated threaten to completely tear the family apart. The story is told from the perspectives of Toby, her sister Gertie, their neighbor George, and Lila herself. I had trouble with the style for awhile, because each perspective was told by a third person narrator in present tense. What I liked about the story was that the multiple perspectives highlight the isolation of each character, effectively and stylistically emphasizing a theme in this story. I also enjoyed reading about an area of the country I have not read about before, though this was also a troublesome spot for me in that I was originally not sure if the story was historical fiction or present day. Though I liked the story well enough, I personally had trouble relating to most of the characters because they were so much older than me and, by extension, had a very different take on life. As I learned more about the characters, their secrets, and their motives, I was more annoyed with them than understanding.

Personally, I found My Sister's Keeper by Jodi Picoult to be a more successful use of multiple perspectives. This received an Alex Award in 2005, though I didn't know that until after I'd taken it out of the library. Anna Fitzgerald was literally born to save her sister Kate's life. Kate has a rare form of leukemia that she has been fighting since she was 2. Now Anna is 13 and her mother, Sara, asks her to donate a kidney in a last-ditch effort to save Kate. Anna balks and starts a lawsuit to gain medical emancipation from her parents. The story is told by Anna, her brother Jesse, her mother, her father, her lawyer, and her guardian ad litem. Each perspective is in first person, and each voice is distinctive. As I read, I found the story more and more heart-rending as I began to understand what each of the characters had been going through since Kate was young, and why each character had made the decisions he or she did. Though I can't personally relate to the tragedy this family goes through, I could relate to their struggles with love, obligation, choice, independence, and morality. The multiple perspectives begged the question, "What would I have done? Would I have felt differently? Acted differently?" I was able to become emotionally involved in the story, even tearing up at the end.

I generally enjoy stories told from multiple perspectives, because I like understanding each character's thoughts and motivations. Because I had trouble relating to the characters and situation in The Floor of the Sky, the story fell a bit flat for me. I wonder, too, if telling the story in first person would have made a difference. My Sister's Keeper successfully uses multiple perspectives, making me think about each character's actions from various points of view, and forcing me to ask myself if I could have done any better or worse or as well as any of them if I were in a similarly complex situation.

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