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(Yes, skeptics, there really is a “best” of Jodi Picoult, and in just a minute, I’ll tell you what I think it is.)I’ll admit that I haven’t read her last couple of books (yet), but for a long time–back in my pre-book-blogging days–Picoult was one of my “go-to” authors.Her fiction may be perceived as a bit formulaic these days, but her strengths lie in applying that formula to well-researched stories that explore charged issues from multiple perspectives.And even if she can’t get the attention of the , she can still reliably stake out a spot on the bestseller list.

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My least favorite of her novels is Second Glance (2003), a blend of mystery and ghost story that incorporates an exposé of a 1930s eugenics project that nearly eradicated a Native American tribe in Vermont.

The novel moves back and forth in time and between several narrators, but there’s just too much plot here, and I found it to be a rather annoying mess. I count Vanishing Acts (2005) as one of Picoult’s “worst” because it’s just generally weak and unmemorable.

The plot involves a long-ago kidnapping and questions of identity…I think.

It doesn’t have a strong hook and it’s not particularly topical…but it is, frankly, easily skippable.

In all honesty, I questioned whether I’d be reading much more Picoult at all after this one.

Fortunately, Picoult came back from that one with Nineteen Minutes (2007), which found her back in her element.

It has a very strong hook: a high-school shooting in a small New England town.

The scenario is probably one of the most common nightmares of modern parents (my son was a high-school freshman in a very similar school and community at the time of Columbine, so don’t think it wasn’t mine), and Picoult not only portrays it from the viewpoint of a victim’s mother–Judge Alex Cormier, who will also be the one to hear the case in court–but also that of the shooter’s parents.

Alex’s daughter Josie and Peter, the shooter himself, are also major characters, and Picoult has a good handle on the cliques and personas of high-school life–good enough to make most readers glad to have it behind them, and worry about their kids heading into it.

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