Saturday, February 9, 2013

Book Review: "The Promise of Stardust" by Priscille Sibley

Wow. Here's a book that will make you think, and make you want to discuss it with others.

Matt Beaulieu has known his wife, Elle, since right after she was born when he was two, as their families were close friends. He's loved her since he was 17 and she was 15, and although they weathered many challenges to their relationship (there were years they barely spoke), they finally had everything they've always wanted—except a healthy baby.

One day everything changes. Elle sustains a severe brain injury in a freak accident and will never be able to recover. Knowing how much she feared being kept alive by machines after watching her mother die of cancer when Elle was a teenager, Matt prepares to take her off of life support. And then he finds out Elle is pregnant again, despite her inability to carry a baby to term. He knows how much this child would have meant to Elle, and how much she would have wanted to fight for it, but he faces a difficult decision—should he keep her alive on the off chance the baby is able to survive, despite the fact she never wanted to be kept alive in this way, or should he let her—and their unborn child—go?

Matt's decision is further complicated by the fact that members of his and Elle's families come out on both sides of the issue. Some want Matt to do everything he can to keep Elle alive, especially if there's a chance the baby can survive, while others feel he is contradicting Elle's most fervent wishes and is simply blinded by his grief. No one feels as strongly toward the latter than Matt's mother, Linney, who was Elle's godmother and her mother's best friend. Convinced she knows better than Matt what Elle would have wanted, this emotional battle is taken to the courtroom, where the case becomes a bellwether for pro-life and right-to-die advocates, and the effects ripple far beyond one family.

Switching back and forth between the present and reminiscences of Matt and Elle's relationship through the years, this is a thought provoking, emotionally powerful book. While it clearly leans toward one point of view on this issue, it doesn't discount the views of the other side, and it illustrates how the issue blurs the lines between whose interests should be thought of first and foremost in cases like this. Priscille Sibley has clearly done her homework, and she also has created a beautiful love story between Matt and Elle, one that choked me up from time to time.

Many of the reviews I've read of this book have likened it to a Jodi Picoult novel. While I don't think that's a necessarily negative comparison, I don't think it's entirely accurate either. Sure, at the heart of this book is the question about whether or not a woman should be kept alive if there's a chance she could deliver a healthy baby, but I feel that Matt and Elle's relationship, how they nurtured and challenged each other, is as much a focus of this book as the controversial issue.

In the end, I don't know if this book breaks any new ground, but that doesn't matter. For me, it was tremendously compelling (I read the entire book on a flight from Albuquerque to Washington, DC) and beautifully written, and that's more than enough. I don't know where you stand on this issue, but I'd encourage you to read this with an open mind—and a full heart.

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