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Book Review: "Vanishing Acts" by Jodi Picoult

Updated on August 11, 2012

Why I recommend to add this book in your reading list?

I love reading and actually am a slow and thinking reader. So each novel I read, it seems to me like a journey and when I finish reading, it is actually saying goodbye to those characters who I was so involved with during the time when I was reading about them. Having this reading habit, I am quite selective about the novels I read and usually I select the authors who will be able to sustain my joy and anticipation throughout the journey of reading the book.

One such author, Jodi Picoult who weaves words, characters and events into such a beautiful experience that, even though the novel is not a thriller, you will want to read to find what comes next. "Vanishing Acts" is the first Jodi Picoults's novel I chose to read and I am determined to read all of her creations - she's an amazing story-teller. She not only brings life to the characters, she will make you feel that you are one of them and the dilemmas which the characters face will become so real to you, that you might pause reading and think what you would have done in such a situation.

If you love stories of human relationships, the practical ones, not the overly sentimental ones, if you love anticipation while reading, if you love participation while reading and if you are a parent or a daughter, you must add "Vanishing Acts" in your reading list.

Jodi Picoult

Read Jodi Picoult's books:

The storyline

Let me first introduce you to the characters:

The story sets a peaceful and comfortable home scenario in New Hampshire in USA, involving a caring, gentleman - the father and her young, beautiful daughter who has a small six-year old girl, Sophie. The father, Mr. Andrew Hopkins is a generous, social worker who has made several contributions to the welfare of the society, especially the senior citizens. On the domestic front, he is the best father/grandfather anyone can ask for.

Delia, the protagonist, the 32-year old daughter works passionately for 'search and rescue' and pursues her career with her favourite bloodhound, Greta.

Eric, Delia's childhood friend turned fiance (not husband) and Sophie's father, is a not-so-well-established lawyer, but is well loved by the family and especially Delia. But Delia's very particular about one thing, Eric's alcoholism; he is going under a rehabilitation process so that once sobered for good, they both will marry and Eric will become the legal father of his beloved daughter, Sophie.

Fitz, Eric and Delia's best friend and neighbour, a journalist and writer by career, who had always loved Delia, but since he also loved Eric so much, never wanted to disclose his heart as he wanted only the best for Delia. Fitz, Eric and Delia grew in each other's houses and shared their childhood, while Delia and Eric started dating since high school and Fitz protected his secret love for Delia. For Eric and Fitz, Delia's father was the ideal parent and both of them have high regard for him and the way he has brought up his daughter.

The missing character: Delia's mother, she doesn't remember much of her and she has grown up knowing that her mother had died in a car-accident. Delia imagines her mother at every point of her life, she creates a self of her mother, constantly misses her and earnestly waits for her to come back all the while as she was growing up through her childhood, through her teen, through her adulthood into her motherhood.

Climax: With this setting, the life goes normal until one day the police drops in and brings warrant against Mr. Hopkins, accusing him of having kidnapped a four-year-old girl twenty eight years ago, forging his identity and being a fugitive for all these years. When for everyone else it seemed a case of mistaken identity, the father admitted that he did kidnap a girl, called Bethany Matthews and the girl was no one but Delia herself.

The world crashes on Delia and the friends and dear ones who love Delia and here starts the story............the scene shifts to Arizona, where the trial takes place and each character finds a new meaning to their existing lives.

Vanishing Acts

The tests, dilemmas and questions that the novel takes you through:

Can you imagine what questions might come into your mind if you were Delia?

1. Is he at all my father?

2. Is my mother still living? Then why did she take so long to find me?

3. Why did the man choose me for kidnapping?

4. Why do I not remember anything? I grew up with a lie, such a big lie that he is my father and my mother's dead - so I am so dependent that I have to believe on what others say who I am. The bits and pieces of memories I have are not giving me any clear picture of who I am?

5. What will be the reaction of my mother when she sees me and will she be the one I had imagined all these years?

6. Who do I trust now? Who do I believe now?

7. My job is to search and rescue other's family members when they are lost, but I never knew that I was always lost and how do I search and rescue myself?

8. Even after knowing that my father had kidnapped me and went against the law and had lied to me all these years, kept me away from my mother, I LOVE HIM. He has been my father and was single-handedly there all the time that I needed him, he has not left any stone unturned to give me happiness in life.

With these dilemmas and questions, Delia begins to search herself. The story unfolds a lot of surprises (which I don't want to give away as I wish all of you to experience the book yourself), with Eric trying hard to defend Mr. Hopkins' case (as he loves Delia with all his heart and wants to get her father acquitted even though the case is legally against him) and Fitz, a true friend who is always there to hold Delia through the turmoil.

Experience the unexpected twists and turns in the story and as you read, I can guarantee you one thing: Not only the judge and jurors will evaluate the situation in the courtroom, you will constantly measure the rights and wrongs and will form your own conclusion like the jurors. You will be torn between the moral/ethical decisions Vs legal actions throughout the read, depending on your personality type.

Why the novel stands out?

My thoughts on why I think this is a wonderful piece to read:

1. The layout and the contents are extremely meticulously researched, the episodes in jail while Mr. Hopkins was in the police custody is in so much details that one goes through that horrible experience of spending a few nights along with the criminal inmates. Also the vivid depiction of the Hopi traditional tribe in Arizona blends the modern lifestyle with an ancient traditional lifestyle and beliefs.

2. Usually each chapter of a novel has a title, but Picoult names them as the names of the characters. for e.g. the chapter named Eric, in which he is the first person and everything we see from his perspective, followed by a chapter named Andrew, where we'll see the entire world from the father's perspective. This is a wonderful craft as the reader keeps slipping into the shoes of all the major characters and feels the whole situation from different perspectives.

3. Life is not perfect, it has its gaps and creaks and crevices which we keep longing for, we crave for things we don't have and take the things we have for granted. So the novel with its unique storyline will make you think and count your blessings, you will appreciate the relationships you have and bank on, you will appreciate friendship as a vital part of your life, you will hold your children and parents closer to you and will make an effort to understand them and spend quality time with them.

4. The book ends with some discussion questions and I really felt that makes the novel and its creator stand out as you will feel like pondering over those questions, once again going over the lives of the characters and the turning points in their lives. If you are a part of a book club or a reading group, you will gather a lot of insights while discussing these open-ended questions, comparing and contrasting characters, evaluating the rights and wrongs etc. Also these questions are a great help from a teacher's perspective, you can ask these kinds of questions to your students, which would trigger a lot of critical and creative thinking. Some of the open-ended questions which I like as a teacher are:

(a) How would you place the characters after five years from now?

(b) What would you have done if you were in the shoes of ...........such and such character?

5. The human relationships portrayed are very real, good mixed with not-so-good and not overly sentimental which makes the reader get connected with all the characters. For example, Eric, Delia's fiance, supposedly the hero of the story, is tall and handsome, a struggling but persistent lawyer, a charming young man, houses a good and unassuming soul...........but is an alcoholic, tries his best to get out of it for Delia's sake and his daughter's sake but gets succumbed to it under pressure, under emotional tension..............loves Delia madly and works tremendously hard to get her father from getting sentenced; but fails to admit that he had continued to drink when actually she was thinking that he had been successful in getting over it.

All these things, positive and negative traits in human beings are so natural, we should not judge a person only from one perspective, everyone. we care for, should be given a second chance.

I would say, most of you will be happy with the ending but somewhere a slight meloncholy strain will remain, and it will leave you with a ............ maybe ................ might.................why not?............what if? But isn't that's what life is all about, expectations which are not absolutely fulfilled and little less than picture-perfect.

Read the novel and let me know what you have felt. Those who have already read the novel, please share your reading experiences.


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    • sriparna profile imageAUTHOR


      6 years ago from New Delhi

      Thanks so much, Catspage, hope you will like the book.

    • CatsPage profile image

      Catherine Spinola 

      6 years ago from New Jersey, USA

      Hi sriparna, I know what you mean when you say that you take the journey with the characters in novels. I get so involved with my reading, sometimes it's hard to accept the end after reading that last page, you just want it to continue. I haven't read "Vanishing Acts" yet, I have only read one of Jodi Picoults books, but now after reading your hub, I will have to check it out. Great Hub..Thumbs up..! Catherine


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