Let me start this post by saying that I'm a big Jodi Picoult fan. I've read 20 of her 21 books (with her YA book, Between the Lines, the only exception), and, in every case, I have thoroughly enjoyed the book. In fact, there are some that I flat out loved - My Sister's Keeper, The Pact, Handle with Care, among others. So, I am very glad to add The Storyteller to her pantheon of books that I loved.
The story revolves around a 25-year old woman, Sage Singer, who is physically and emotionally very scarred from a car accident. She is so self-conscious that she works at a bakery at night and early morning so that she won't be seen by the customers. She very typically tilts her head in the presence of others so that her hair covers the scars.
Sage belongs to a grief counseling group and, there, meets a man in his 90's, Josef Weber, that is a pillar of the community (or is he? - shades of Michael Lavigne's Not Me). They become friends, and then Josef privately reveals some shocking history about himself during WWII. And he asks Sage to do something that is pretty unbelievable. This leads to 2 other characters - Sage's grandmother, Minka, who is a Holocaust survivor, and Leo Stein, a 38-year old who works for an organization within the Department of Justice that hunts Nazi war criminals (is that redundant?). Add in Darija, who is Sage's best friend from childhood, Mary, an ex-nun who is Sage's boss at the bakery, and Adam, the local mortician, who is married and is having an affair with Sage, and you have a ton of very interesting characters.
I have to digress and tell you about Leo Stein. I don't remember any of Jodi's books being funny (although one of my readers told me that the early part of House Rules has humor in it - I don't remember that). But Leo says some things that had me laughing a lot. Here are a few examples:
1. When Sage asks Leo how he slept in his hotel, he says: "About as well as can be expected when the hotel is filled with pre-teen girls who are here for a soccer tournament. I have some impressive dark circles under my eyes. But on the bright side, I now know all the words to the new Justin Bieber single."
2. Leo is talking about playing bridge, badly, with his grandfather. Leo says: "So when we left, I asked my grandpa how I should have played the hand. He said, 'Under an assumed name.'"
3. Leo is sending Sage, potentially, into danger and is describing what he, Leo, will be doing. "I release...(I don't want to give the name), who collapses at my feet, and confesses not just to all war crimes at Auschwitz but also for being responsible for the colossal mistakes New Coke and Sex and the City 2."
I must have laughed out loud a dozen times or more with Leo. Believe me when I tell you that nobody else in this story is the least bit funny.
There are two other interesting notes to mention. First, although the chapters go back and forth from one main character to another, there is only one chapter for Sage's grandmother, Minka. The chapter goes from pages 197-358 (out of 456 pages in the book) - 161 straight pages about Minka in Poland during WWII. How intense is that?
Secondly, when I read South of Broad, by Pat Conroy, there is a main character that dies that left me feeling somewhat bereft (cool word, wouldn't you say?). I actually felt loss. I had a similar reaction when one of the characters dies in The Storyteller. It wasn't as dramatic, but the matter-of-fact way that Jodi reveals it is a real shocker (I did yell out C--P).
That's all I've got to say about this book. It's just darn good. If you already read Picoult, then it's a no-brainer. If you don't/haven't, you can start with The Storyteller. You won't be disappointed.