Last week I read Jodi Picoult's The Tenth Circle. Technically, The Tenth Circle is an adult book, but I can easily see it working as a crossover novel for young adults. It features Picoult's trademark shifts in viewpoint, with two of the viewpoints those of high school kids. Tenth Circle is a fascinating and disturbing novel. It's about hidden pasts (a theme Picoult returns to repeatedly), a family in crisis, and the sometimes fine line that divides acceptable behavior and violence.
The Tenth Circle is the story of 14-year-old Trixie Stone, who has recently had her heart broken by an older, more popular boy named Jason Underhill. It's also the story of Trixie's father, Daniel, who appears to be a mild-mannered comic book artist, but who hides secrets about a much more violent past, and Trixie's mother, Laura, who has a more current secret. When a self-destructive Trixie and a self-entitled Jason collide at a party, one rash act changes all of the characters lives forever.
The Tenth Circle features comic book panels between chapters, "drawn by" Daniel Stone. The comics tell a parallel and overlapping story to that of the text. There's also a secret message hidden in the comic book panels - a little game that Jodi Picoult plays with her readers. It's an unusual addition to an adult novel, but works quite well. I like that she's having fun with her books.
However, I had trouble deciding whether I liked The Tenth Circle or not. I read it in a single day, and found that it moved quickly, and kept my interest. I thought that it was well-written, with Picoult's usual deft handling of viewpoint shifts. But the story itself was difficult to pin down, the literary equivalent of quicksand, with the truth constantly eroding away underfoot. This is also something that Picoult is good at, and usually I like it, but not quite so much in this case.
Maybe the he said / she said story hit a bit close to home, after reading for weeks about the Duke lacrosse scandal. Maybe, as with the main character in Scott Westerfeld's Specials (which I reviewed recently), I just couldn't decide how much to empathize with Trixie, because she kept shifting on me. Maybe I just don't like reading about infidelity, rainbow parties, and teens cutting themselves.
That said, I do think that The Tenth Circle tells an important story. It gives parents a hint of the self-destructive behavior that teen girls can exhibit (very frightening stuff!). Perhaps more importantly, the book gives a window into what the aftermath of date rape is like, for both victim and accused. It's hard to read sometimes, but could certainly provide some talking points between parents and teens, as well as food for thought for anyone else.
© 2009 by Jennifer Robinson of Jen Robinson's Book Page. All rights reserved.