Saturday, March 14, 2009

book review: the mercy rule

the mercy rule by perri klass is a great book. it's written in the most straightforward prose i've ever had the pleasure of reading. the book handles many sensitive topics with unsentimental truth and blatant elegance.

the protagonist, lucy, is a suburban mom of two. married, working, taking her kids to soccer practice and birthday parties. dr. lucy weiss is a pediatrician specializing in at-risk and foster children, and a nationally recognized authority on the subject. she is also a former foster child, herself. the book centres around two main subjects: lucy's complex relationship with her complex daughter, isabel, and her efforts to balance her difficult, often wrenching work and her home life.

there's a fine balance between being an evil babysnatcher, removing kids from bad homes to put them in worse ones, and being a rescuer of children at risk, removing them to safety. i once had a job where i had to make that call occasionally, and it is brutal. the home life is bad, but is it so bad that it warrants removal? at what point is the line crossed that necessitates breaking up a family? it's a hard, hard choice, and perri klass does an excellent job of articulating just how excruciating it is.

isabel and lucy are, like many mother-daughter pairs, both stunningly similar and amazingly different. their relationship is fraught with misunderstandings, but also has nuggets of harmony. it's complicated, painful, wonderful, and incredibly real. this relationship is so well developed it's almost like another main character. also beautiful is the way isabel, a pre-teen, isn't another faceless stereotyped young girl. she's got a fully formed personality, and she is an amazing, talented, messed up, neurotic kid, just like the ones you'll meet in real life. the depiction of isabel is hands-down the best character development of a minor i've read this decade. if for nothing else, read the mercy rule to see how well the author creates the characters of isabel and lucy.

i don't know if this book was better than the groom to have been, but it's at least on par. it is therefore now tied for best book of the year.

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