In a small Vermont town, an old man puts a piece of land up for sale, igniting a firestorm of protest from the local Abenaki Indians, who insist it is an ancient burial ground. To appease them the developer looking to buy the property hires a ghost hunter, Ross Wakeman. Ross is a suicidal drifter desperate to cross paths again with his fiancee, who died in a car crash eight years earlier. But after several late nights all Ross can lay claim to discovering is Lia Beaumont, a skittish, mysterious woman who, like Ross, is on a search for something beyond the boundary separating life and death. Thus begins Picoult’s enthralling and ultimately astonishing story of love, fate and a crime of passion.
Jodi Picoult is one of my favourite authors for a reason: every single book she writes challenges my world view. Her books explore euthanasia, racism and white supremacism, the Holocaust, and whether you can sue for medical emancipation from your parents. But Second Glance was perhaps the most challenging of her books for me because it asked me to believe in the paranormal, something I’ve always relegated to the realm of fiction.
In contrast to the usual legal and moral dilemmas of Picoult’s work, Second Glance explores the culture of the Abenaki Indians and the Vermont eugenics project of the 1920s and 30s. I found both these things fascinating, especially the idea of eugenics. It was horrific to see the charts and theories proposed in the novel, which were very much grounded in reality. It’s a shocking reminder that these ‘studies’ were going on less than a Century ago. I loved learning a little more about the Abenaki culture and the way it wove through the novel.
As with any Picoult book, characters were central to Second Glance, but I found the structure of this novel made it a little harder for me to initially connect with them. Unlike her more recent novels, Second Glance switches point-of-view mid-chapter, rather than focusing on one character. At first this was quite jarring, but eventually it grew on me and I started to understand the characters a little more. I have to be honest though, and admit I probably would have stopped reading if I didn’t have such faith in Picoult’s ability as a writer.
While I enjoyed the themes explored in Second Glance, particularly around love and meaning, I found Ross’ love for Lia annoying. It was verging on instalove and started to play on the idea that someone’s love, or indeed someone, can save you from serious mental illness. I loved Ross’ sister Shelby and local cop Eli and their growing relationship, which added some light to what was a fairly harrowing story.
While Second Glance was enjoyable, it’s not the book I’d recommend people read if they’re looking for their first Picoult. Which is precisely what I did when we picked this for our book club. Whoops. But then, maybe my previous experiences with Picoult’s later work are the reason I just couldn’t love this book as much as I wanted to, despite plenty of thought-proving elements.
Trigger warning: Self harm and suicide is discussed in depth throughout the book.