Book Review: Plain Truth by Jodi Picoult

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Plain Truth by Jodi Picoult
Release Date: 2000
Publisher: Atria Books
Pages: 405 pages
See it on GoodReads

GoodReads Description: "The small town of Paradise, Pennsylvania, is a jewel in Lancaster County - known for its picture-postcard landscapes and bucolic lifestyle. But that peace is shattered by the discovery of a dead infant in the barn of an Amish farmer. A police investigation quickly leads to two startling disclosures: the newborn's mother is an unmarried Amish woman, eighteen-year-old Katie Fisher. And the infant did not die of natural causes. Although Katie denies the medical proof that she gave birth to the child, circumstantial evidence leads to her arrest for the murder of her baby. 

One hundred miles away, Philadelphia defense attorney Ellie Hathaway has achieved an enviable, high-profile career. But her latest court victory has set the sands shifting beneath her. Single at thirty-nine and unsatisfied with her relationship, Ellie doesn't look back when she turns down her chance to make partner and takes off for an open-ended stay at her great-aunt's home in Paradise. Fate brings her to Katie Fisher. Suddenly, Ellie sees the chance to defend a client who truly needs her, not just one who can afford her. 

But taking on this case challenges Ellie in more ways than one. She finds herself not only in a clash of wills with a client who does not want to be defended but also in a clash of cultures with a people whose channels of justice are markedly different from her own. Immersing herself in Katie Fisher's life -- and in a world founded on faith, humility, duty, and honesty -- Ellie begins to understand the pressures and sacrifices of those who to live plain. As she peels away the layers of fact and fantasy, Ellie calls on an old friend for guidance. Now, just as this man from Ellie's past reenters her life, she must uncover the truth about a complex case, a tragic loss, the bonds of love -- and her own deepest fears and desires."

The Amish are a peaceful people… or are they?  Um, yes. They are.  Whenever I read a book like this where there is an Amish person accused of a crime I always feel oddly defensive of them.  I really admire Amish people and their lives of simplicity and hard work and their commitment to their faith.  And in real life I don’t think the number of actual crimes among the Amish are nearly as numerous as the number of books on the subject.  However, I feel like the Picoult did a good job of letting that be known throughout.  Yes, the Amish are people and as such there are some – especially the teenagers – who commit minor crimes, but for the most part the way they are raised eradicates crime. 

That being said, I gave this book 3 stars on GoodReads because “I liked it.”  Here’s what I liked: I like the way that Jodi Picoult writes.  Her books are very readable and she keeps me interested in the story.  She also brings up hard issues and she really digs in and explores them and I appreciate that about her.  This book was no different – I was intrigued and I wanted to keep reading.  And she dug into tough issues.  She always seems to do this in such a way that leaves you wondering – was that the right thing to do?  What was the right thing to do?  After reading a few of her books, I believe she purposely creates this gray area. 

I also really enjoyed her exploration of Amish culture.  I have always wanted to go and visit Amish country.  My husband has some family back there and he went when he was younger and I just burn with envy over it.  One day we will go.  But his grandmother went back there recently and she brought my daughter back this quilt:

Excuse the less than stellar quality of my picture taking skills here, but isn’t it great?  I definitely love it!  Anyways, my interest in Amish culture in part drove my decision to read this book and I was not disappointed. The descriptions of this particular sect of Amish people were plentiful and I enjoyed reading about them.

Before I get into the things I didn’t like, I want to say that my last two babies were premature – one was born at 30 weeks and one at 29 weeks (They are now almost 3 and 1 respectively).  The baby in the story was 32 weeks.  The issue at hand in this book – neonaticide – was disgusting and particularly emotional for me.  That may have had some influence on my reading experience.  And I absolutely hated the use of the word “neonate” to describe the baby who died.  I don’t know why I hated it so much honestly, but I did.  Baby Fisher was very rarely called a “baby.” 

I did not like Katie Fisher.  She was the one who had the baby and one of the main characters.  I had no sympathy for her because quite frankly she had no sympathy for anyone else.  I don’t want to give things away but she treats her Amish boyfriend quite badly and is completely surprised when he very briefly does not want to be with her.  She acts completely selfishly throughout the book and very much like a child and not an 18 year old.  I know that Amish kids probably have a level of innocence and naivete, but they also work hard and have a lot of responsibility, which leads to maturity.  Not to mention she had already been through her running-around days as an Amish teen and had experience in the “Englisch” world when she visited her brother at college, so she should have been less naΓ―ve than most not more. 

The other main character was Ellie Hathaway, who becomes her lawyer.  And I didn’t like her either!  Her condescending attitude toward the Amish did not become her.  Nor did her reluctance to help or treat anyone with much respect.  I warmed toward her as she warmed toward the family though.

There were other characters I didn’t like as well.  In fact, the only person in the book that I could actually say I liked was Coop – the psychologist and Ellie’s college boyfriend. 

Aside from the characters I didn’t get the point of the ghost part of the plot.  I feel like it was thrown in there to make us question whether Katie was crazy and thus killed her baby.  But it ended up not having much bearing on the story and just felt odd and unfinished.

Finally, I was not a fan of the ending. 

***Spoiler coming!!  If you haven't read it scroll down to where you see this another row of asterisks.


I knew part-way through the book that Sarah Fisher knew that Katie was pregnant.  And I assumed that she hid the baby.  But she killed the baby??? It is completely out of character!! If she did that the woman is a total psychopath.  She murdered a baby – her grandson.  And then she is a minor character who acts completely normally throughout until the end.  Even when her daughter is accused of killing the baby and facing life in prison – she doesn’t come forward.  The woman is made of steel!  If she was going to the murderer her psychological issues should have played a bigger part in the story. 

Plus the author goes to great lengths to explain the Amish culture and how Katie could have never done it because of how she was raised – she was completely incapable because she would never think of herself, yadda yadda.  And then it’s the mother?  Who’s also Amish?  And thinking even more of herself than the act would have required Katie to have done?? 

She does it so she doesn’t lose her daughter supposedly, but Katie wouldn’t have even been excommunicated.  And yes the husband would have shunned her, disowned her, excommunicated her maybe, but then divorce the husband!  Or even just stand up to him!  I know that divorce is a sin and not allowed in the Amish faith – and neither is standing up to your husband – but its definitely not as bad as killing a baby!!  If those are the two options – you divorce not murder.  Right????

We find out in the trial the baby probably would have died anyway.  With the baby being born at 32 weeks, her not telling anyone, then having it in the barn I wasn’t surprised about that.  When I had my babies they went straight through a window in the OR to the NICU – If I had them in a barn and waited for them to show signs of distress to try to take them to the hospital, they wouldn’t have made it either.  But the baby also had evidence of being infected with listeria from raw milk on the dairy farm.  So why not have the baby in the story die from negligence, then Sarah finds the baby and hides him.  That would have been in character and made for an infinitely better ending.  She still could have handed Ellie the scissors in that “mic drop” moment, but it would have made more sense. 


***Rant (and spoiler) over.

I would recommend this book to fans of Jodi Picoult and her writing on tough subjects that get into the gray areas between right and wrong.  I would also recommend it as a crime/courtroom drama.  I wouldn’t recommend it as a light read on Amish culture – though I loved that part of the story, it is not a light read. 

Favorite quote:

“In your world, people can reach each other in an instant. There's the telephone, and the fax - and on the computer you can talk to someone all the way around the world. You've got people telling their secrets on TV talk shows, and magazines that publish pictures of movie stars trying to hide their homes. All those connections, but everyone there seems so lonely.”