By Jodi Picoult
This book – as the title suggests – is about a custody battle over a child named Faith…intentionally named since this book also explores Faith in God. Soon after her parents – Mariah and Colin – divorce Faith experiences visions where she sees God. God is described as wearing a long white robe and brown sandals with shoulder length hair. Mariah – a non-religious Jew – takes Faith to a psychiatrist when she starts quoting Bible. Having ruled out psychosis or attention seeking behavior the psychiatrist takes the case to a conference which makes Faith a celebrity in her small community. Media and pious Christians soon flock to Faith and Mariah’s farm house. When Faith supposedly resurrects her grand mother who is pronounced dead and suffers stigmata she gets the attention of wide spread media – especially Ian Fletcher who is an atheist and has a TV show that debunks religious myths – Catholic church and people hoping for miracles. Colin afraid for the safety of his child sues Mariah for child custody. The rest of the story is about the trial and who ends up “Keeping Faith”.
This book definitely kept my interest up and at some points I was really anxious about the turn of events but the ending disappointed me a great deal. The characters were also not well developed. Mariah is the main character and sometimes the story is told in first person by her. She suffers from depression and is even institutionalized for being suicidal. She is constantly second guessing herself as a parent and fears that since she is not good enough for her husband she is not good enough to be a mother. She falls apart after her divorce but pulls herself together when Faith starts having issues. If the author’s intention is for her rise above and beyond her self doubt and emerge as an emotionally strong person that is there for her daughter all the time then she fails to bring about that transformation in this character. The subplot of Mariah’s romance with Ian Fletcher – the same guy that was there to expose her as a fraud is soppy and makes her character look weak and needy.
Jodi Picoult builds up the plot to go in one direction when she brings in Manchausen by proxy syndrome and somatisation but she suddenly turns it around and leaves this whole plot hanging. I wish she had taken the plot along these lines and ended conclusively since she has been hinting right from the beginning that Mariah is prone to depression. I thought this was the beginning of unraveling of the mystery…that here comes the explanation for all the bizarre things even if the explanation was just that it was all a coincidence. But that does not happen…after pages and pages of court room trial and discussions with experts in Manchausen syndrome the judge gives custody to Mariah…just like that. And Faith supposedly at the death’s door just gets up and out of the hospital when Mariah goes in and holds her. The author explores many things – faith, God, love, motherhood – but does not tie up the many threads she introduces and while it may be a coincidence for all the miracles to happen around Faith – resurrecting her grandmother, healing an AIDS baby, an 80 year old woman waking up from coma, all the patients in Faith’s ICU floor suddenly cured etc. – it still does not explain stigmata. The reader is allowed to assume that it really happened especially after Faith says “God hurt her” and Mariah experiences a vision herself where God tells her “she isn’t in pain; I’m not doing it to her I’m doing it for her”.
I am not an atheist and I like ambiguous endings but for an open-for-your-interpretation-ending the plot should be complex and multi-layered and this book isn’t set up for that. A very loose plot, weak characters and an ending that literally asks readers to take a huge leap of faith. I should have guessed from the title what was required of me!