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Review: Sing You Home by Jodi Picoult

Jodi Picoult is a phenomenon. Since her 1992 debut the 44-year-old's novels have sold in the millions, and the book world would be rocked to its foundations if her 18th tale Sing You Home didn't follow suit.

I was a late convert to the New Hampshire woman's work. While her legions of fans eagerly anticipated each new family drama, I had found her astonishing productivity to be slightly off-putting, almost formulaic.

Last May I read House Rules and discovered that mix of chick lit, misery memoir and 'issue' that Picoult's followers found so compelling.

Picoult is certainly an 'issues' woman. Everything from sibling savours to teen suicide to autism is fair game for this writer. Her latest novel, which comes less than a year after House Rules was published, deals with infertility, marital break-up, cancer, and as if that wasn't enough, same-sex marriage, Christian evangelicalism and gay parenthood.

Zoe and Max have been trying for children since they got married nine years ago. After fertility treatment and several miscarriages, their dream seems about to be realised until Zoe loses the baby at 28 weeks.

Max, who struggles with alcoholism, is overwhelmed and wants a divorce. He moves in with his financially successful brother Reid and sister-in-law Liddy. The couple are devout Christians and are also trying to conceive.

Zoe, a music therapist, takes solace in her burgeoning friendship with Vanessa and soon they fall in love.

Vanessa has been open about her sexuality since college, while Zoe has never been in a same-sex relationship. For her, it is all about loving Vanessa, rather than labels. The two marry but must do so out of State.

While Zoe can no longer have children, Vanessa can, and there are three frozen embryos that were forgotten when Zoe and Max divorced.

Since their estrangement, Max has found God and now attends Reid's ultra-conservative church. Zoe asks him if she and Vanessa can have permission to use the embryos. But he now believes that homosexuality is a crime, and instead wants to offer the embryos to Reid and Liddy. It's a dilemma that can only be resolved in court.

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There's at least two books in Sing You Home and many, many issues, which could overwhelm an author less talented than Picoult.

But somehow this novel seems less substantial than House Rules. She adopts the same multi-perspective approach that worked so well in that book, but her characters don't offer the reader much illumination.

Instead it seems that insight was sacrificed for melodrama. Almost every chapter brings a new revelation.

Picoult, a Democrat, is to be applauded for shedding light on such a contentious issue as gay parenthood. And she isn't afraid to complicate matters.

The battle between the born-again Christians and the newly married lesbian couple is hard fought, and the former are well prepared to get their hands dirty. However, in real life, it's not always so clear just who the good guys are.

Sing You Home will undoubtedly be another bestseller for Picoult, but it's not the best introduction for newcomers to her particular mix of literary and commercial fiction. If you haven't read one of her books, you might be tempted to wonder what all the fuss is about.

I'll give her a second chance when her 19th novel is published. I'm sure I won't have to wait too long.

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