AUDIO: Jodi Picoult discusses her March 2007 book Nineteen Minutes
Jodi Picoult’s newest book,”Change of Heart,” deals with the death penalty, organ donation, and organized religion. Jodi lives in Hanover, New Hampshire, with her husband and three children. Her novels tackle subjects such as sexual abuse, abortion, suicide, and bullying.
“We’ve been taught to show our kids that the world is black and white, and that there’s a right way and a wrong way. I think the way you teach critical thinking is by illustrating all the shades of gray.
“My personal feeling as a mom is that when we as parents pretend something doesn’t exist, we do far more damage than if we allow ourselves to open up a conversation about it, maybe even before anything happens. I would rather discuss something unpleasant, controversial, maybe unpalatable, with my kids, because then I think they’ll know they can come to me if they need to.
“Start asking questions in a way that’s not prying, but really genuine. Instead of lecturing or laying down the law, you’re inviting. It’s saying, Here’s my spiel; you make up your mind. A kid can feel the difference. I’m not a parenting expert. I just know it’s worked in my house.
“When we come down to the dinner table and we talk about what we did all day, I talk about the research I did. I talk about what I’m writing about. I ask for their opinions. My daughter is 12 now, and she knew what rape was when she was 8 or 9. We explained it to her in a way that was not scary and that was age-appropriate.
“I see parents who read my books falling into two camps: the ones who say, ‘This is wildly inappropriate for kids — there’s language in here, there’s sex.’ You can believe that [high school students] are naive and that they haven’t encountered any of this. You are so lying to yourselves. I think they’d surprise you — not only with their knowledge base, but also with their capacity for empathy and their ability to seriously join this conversation.
“We as adults have to be willing to allow [kids] into the discussion instead of thinking we hold all the reins, and that’s scary for a lot of people. The more you do it, the easier it comes to you. I think that fiction is a terrific venue for that. A mom who sees her kid withdrawing, and speaking less and eating less and spending time in his room, may not be able to walk up to her child and say, ‘Are you depressed? Are you suicidal?’ I’ve heard from a lot of parents who have read The Pact, which is about teen suicide, and who have had their kids read it. It becomes this venue: ‘Do you think Emily was right? Do you think Chris was right to do that? Why do you think that?’ I think that very often when you start with the focus on something fictional, you wind up talking about reality.
“I’ve heard from tons of parents who read Nineteen Minutes [which explores issues of bullying and school violence] and who went to their kid’s room, sat down, and said for the first time, ‘What’s it like for you in school?’ I think it’s a matter of not just opening your child’s mind — it’s opening your mind a little bit.
“Maybe you’ve never heard [the other side]. Maybe you’ve just never asked yourself why your opinion is what it is. If you’ve read my book and you’ve at least entertained the other position, and if you’ve looked at your own opinion and figured out why you have it, then I know I’ve done my job. You may not change your mind, but I’m okay with that. I just want people to listen and to be willing to talk.”
For more information on Jodi Picoult and her novels, plus a list of her upcoming tour dates and venues, go to: jodipicoult.com