Main / Books / A Spark of Light / Summary

A Spark of Light

Quick Recap & Summary By Chapter

The Full Book Recap and Chapter-by-Chapter Summary for A Spark of Light by Jodi Picoult are below.

Quick(-ish) Recap

A Spark of Light tells the stories of the lives of a group of people when a man, George Goddard, shoots up an abortion center ("the Center") in Mississippi. The book opens at the end of the hostage standoff. A number of people are dead. The last remaining hostage is Wren McElroy, daughter of the hostage negotiator, Hugh McElroy. In an attempt to save his daughter, Hugh offers himself up in exchange for Wren. After they make the switch, Wren walks towards safety, but George lifts his gun towards her and pulls the trigger.

From there, the story continues in reverse chronological order. As the book progresses backwards in time, it goes through each characters and how they ended up there:

George shoots the place up because his daughter, Lil, had an abortion at the center recently. George is a former military man who was dishonorably discharged from after he attacked two civilians in Bosnia (but only because they'd been trying to rape a woman). He returned home embittered, and his wife eventually left him to raise their daughter on his own.

Wren is a teenage girl who is at the Center seeking birth control because she's seeing a boy, Ryan, she thinks she loves. She was afraid to ask her dad, so she asked her Aunt Bex to bring her instead.

Bex is Wren's Aunt and Hugh's sister. She's an artist, and she has served as a mother figure for Wren after Wren's mother, Annabelle cheated on Hugh and left for Paris. Bex gets shot by George, but gets wheeled out for medical care. She survives. Bex brings Wren to the center because she is pro-choice, but she knows abortion is not something she'd consider for herself. At the very end of the book, we learn that Bex is actually (secretly) Hugh's mother from when she became pregnant at 14.

Olive is a retired professor who goes to the Center for health reasons, and she is told that she has Stage 4 cervical cancer. When the shooting starts, she and Wren try to hide in a closet, but are later discovered. At one point, the hostages stage a failed attempt to try to get the gun from George. In retribution, he goes to shoot Wren, but Olive jumps in front of the bullet and is killed instead.

Joy, a hostage, was at the Center for an abortion that day. Joy is a former foster child who was given up by her mother after Joy attacked her mom's boyfriend when he was assaulting her mother. Joy grows up in foster homes being bullied and molested. Later, she was working two jobs and putting herself through school when a handsome man, Joe, walked in. They saw each other a few times and, despite being on the pill, she got pregnant. When she told him, he told her he was married and ghosted her.

Janine is an anti-abortion activist who was spying on the Center's activities to try to find incriminating evidence of them forcing women into abortions. Janine has a brother with Down syndrome who she loves and she thinks all lives should be saved. However, she actually secretly once had an abortion as a teenager after getting drunk at a party where she was gang raped.

Dr. Louis Ward is the OB/GYN. He is a black man who was raised by his grandmother. His own mother died of a failed "home remedy" attempt at an abortion. Louis is shot by George, injuring his leg, but he survives.

Izzy is a nurse, who has just learned she was pregnant. She stops George from shooting her by telling him this. While the hostage situation goes on, she helps to take care of Dr. Ward and Bex after they are shot. Izzy grew up poor, but made her own way in life. Her boyfriend, Parker, has recently proposed. Toward the end of the book, we learn she is actually a nurse for a different hospital. She switched shifts with a co-worker of hers, Jayla, today to arrange for two days off to get an abortion.

In a hospital a few hours away, Beth is a 17-year-old who is being prosecuted for murder for having had an illegal abortion. She attempted it because her father had refused to provide consent and there wasn't time to obtain a judicial waiver. She ended up hospitalized after losing too much blood, and the nurse, Jayla, called the authorities. At the very end of the book, we learn that Beth's father is George Goddard (her name is Elizabeth Goddard and he calls her Lil).

In the Epilogue, we learn that when George had set his aim onto Wren, Hugh grabbed his gun to shoot as well. In the end, George is dead, and Hugh's arm is merely injured. Wren and Hugh leave together.

If this summary was useful to you, please consider supporting this site by leaving a tip ($2, $3, or $5) or joining the Patreon!

Chapter-by-Chapter Summary

Note: The story is told in reverse chronological order, with each section going backwards in time by one hour.

Chapter 1: Five p.m.
Chapter 2: Four p.m.
Chapter 3: Three p.m.
Chapter 4: Two p.m.
Chapter 5: One p.m.
Chapter 6: Noon
Chapter 7: Eleven a.m.
Chapter 8: Ten a.m.
Chapter 9: Nine a.m.
Chapter 10: Eight a.m.

Chapter 1: Five p.m.

The Center (formerly known as the Center for Women and Reproductive Health) is that last standing abortion clinic in Mississippi. While similar clinics (places providing abortion services) have been shut down through burdensome regulatory requirements, this one has continued standing. Today, a hostage situation has emerged with a shooter on site.

Wren McElroy is 15. Near her is Olive Lemay, who was shot dead as of roughly two hours ago. She doesn’t know if her Aunt Bex, who had brought her here, is still alive or not.

George Goddard is the shooter. He had a difficult childhood and recently his own daughter, Lil, had gone to the Center to receive an abortion. He was furious about this, resulting in this crusade for justice, but it’s now been eight hours into this ordeal and he is exhausted and lost. He’s also been stabbed by Wren, who he decides he will use to teach the police a lesson.

Hugh McElroy is the hostage negotiator, and he is the father of Wren as well as the younger brother of Bex. Hugh has been trying to establish a rapport with George over the last five hours in order to understand his motivations, in hopes of getting him to surrender. He knows that while many have been killed, there are at least five hostages still alive right now, including Wren. The commander of the SWAT team, Captain Joe Quandt, is eager to go in with force, but Hugh is against it.

George releases four hostages: Joy Perry, Janine Deguerre, Izzy and Dr. Louis Ward (who is injured and wheeled out by Izzy). Only Wren is left inside. When George fails to release Wren, Hugh calls to demand to know why, since it’s not what they agreed. George says he knows Hugh is lying to him. The moment Wren is free, George knows he’s dead. With few alternatives left and Quandt determined to enter with force (which would likely result in Wren’s death), Hugh offers to switch places with Wren. Before heading in and after hearing that Bex has survived surgery, Hugh writes a note saying goodbye to be given to Bex.

Outside, in the medical tent, Janine thinks about how she had once worked to raise funds to erect an anti-abortion billboard outside the center. Afterwards, when questioned, Janine lies about why she was there, but the truth was that she went in to spy on the Center. Soon, Allen, the leader of the local Right to Life group who had sent her in that day, shows up to take her home. But before she leaves, she checks on Joy who is in another interrogation room.

Meanwhile, Izzy (a nurse) is taken to the hospital where a doctor checks the fetal heartbeat in her uterus and confirms that her unborn baby is ok. Izzy thinks about how she is a survivor, having grown up in difficult conditions with two twin brothers in a poor household. Now, she lives a comfortable life and lives with her boyfriend, Parker, a Yale-educated trust-fund baby.

Someone comes in with an update on Bex, who had been shot and who Izzy had tried to save. Bex has been in surgery, but is alive for now and in intensive care. Then, Officer Thibodeau arrives to take Izzy’s statement, but is interrupted by Parker, who shows up to see Izzy.

Bex, an artist, wakes up after surgery, thinking about the art she’ll make about this. Despite having no children herself, her art often focuses on pregnant women and infants. Now, she thinks about how the two people she loves most, Hugh and Wren, are in the middle of a hostage situation.

Elsewhere, Louis Ward, a 54-year-old OB/GYN, is unconscious. Raised in southern Louisiana, Louis is a Catholic raised by his mother and gradmother. Sebby Cherise lived in the bayou nearby and was known as the local witch, rumored to be descended from a voodoo priestess. One day, he and his mother went to visit her. A week later, he found his mother, dead in a pool of blood from a failed abortion attempt. Afterwards, there were rumors about his mother and Mr. Bouffet, the married mayor.

When Louis wakes, he’s relieved to see his injured leg is still there and feel grateful for Izzy’s help. Rachel, a part time worker at the Center, cries and apologizes for running away instead of staying to help. Louis comforts her.

Afterwards, Joy brings Janine to her house. She notes the irony of having gone to the Center for an abortion, but returning home with an anti-abortion activist. They have tea and talk, but Joy is shocked to hear that Janine plans to continue protesting against abortion. Joy asks Janine to leave. Before she leaves, Joy shows Janine a photo of her unborn fetus, wishing she could explain to Janine how she was both relieved over what she’d done, but felt the pain of loss as well.

Three hours north of the clinic, Beth is at Baptist Memorial Hospital, where her court-appointed lawyer, Mandy DuVille, has stopped by. Beth is being prosecuted for having had an illegal abortion at 17. She hadn’t been able to get her father to sign the consent papers, but had done it anyway. She’d tried to get a judicial waver, but her court date had been pushed so that it would’ve been too far into the pregnancy for it to be done legally in Mississippi.

About the enter clinic, Hugh thinks about Wren. She was named “Wren” because a little bird had fluttered through the window and had landed on her bassinet at the hospital when they were trying to pick out a name. Wren’s mother, Annabelle, now lived in France, but Wren was the best thing in his life. As he enters, Hugh finally sees George for the first time. After a tense exchange, Wren is released, and soon Hugh is standing there with George’s gun pointed at him. It’s now just the two of them.

Then, George’s aim changes and moves over to Wren, who is still walking towards the safety of the command tent. George pulls the trigger.

Chapter 2: Four p.m.

(The narrative goes backwards in time by one hour — each section from here on out continues in this fashion.)

Hugh has been talking to George now for four hours. Now, they’ve just heard a single gunshot. Quandt wants to enter, and to stop him, Hugh finally admits that one of the hostages is his daughter. He acknowledges that he should’ve stepped down when he realized it, but now he’s in too deep to walk away from the situation.

In the hospital, Bex is in the operating room, waiting to be operated on. She’s worried about Wren in the hostage situation. She thinks about how even as a kid, Hugh was always trying to take on responsibilities, thinking back to when Hugh was 8 and their father died. Their mother had become neglectful afterwards, and Bex had moved home to become Hugh’s maternal figure instead.

In the Center, Janine thinks about her stance on abortion and recalls finding our her soon-to-be younger sibling would likely be born with Down syndrome or other developmental challenges. Her mother had been advised to terminate, but she had him, Ben, anyway. While there were difficulties, Janine sees Ben as an example of why abortion is “moral quicksand”. Janine is sitting next to Joy, who had her abortion earlier today.

At the same time, Izzy is sitting next to Olive’s body. The bullet had gone through Olive’s heart. Izzy had held her hand on Olive’s chest, and before she died, Izzy had told Olive how brave she’d been.

Nearby, Louis recalls how he’d decided to become an obstetrician after picking up a book on MLK during detention in 7th grade. He recalls reading the book and the words “Life’s most persistent and urgent question, is what are you doing for others?” sticking out to him as he thought of his mother bleeding on the floor. Much later, as a practicing Catholic, he had initially been against performing abortions until he realized there was such a large gap between people needing the operation and those willing to do it, which meant the rest were done unsafely. When he finally pieced together why his mother had visited Sebby Cherise, he decided to be an abortion provider.

When Louis finally told his grandmother about it, her main concern was that he might be killed by an anti-abortion activist. Now, he’s been shot in the leg, aggravated by a kick the shooter administered to the area, with a tourniquet around it. Izzy checks on it when he moans. Louis thinks about Vonita, the clinic owner, who is dead now. And Olive, a 60-year-old woman, who was also killed and wasn’t even there for an abortion.

Meanwhile, Joy thinks about her accidental pregnancy. Joy — a waitress at the Departure Lounge, a martini bar in the Jackson airport — thinks about the handsome, suited man that had walked in and ordered a number of drinks. The man, Joe, seemed sad, and she’d uncharacteristically invited him back to her place. They’d slept together, and they end up getting together three more times. Joe turns out to be around 15 years older than her and a judge. Joy, a former foster kid, had started to be hopeful that something good had finally happened to her.

Then, Joy had found out she was 10 weeks pregnant, and her attempts to contact him were fruitless. She was working two jobs already, one at the bar and another in the school library, and she was one year away from her bachelors’ degree. She didn’t have the money for an abortion, which got more expensive the longer you waited, until it was no longer legal in Mississippi at 16 weeks. She finally pawned her laptop to be able to afford the procedure.

Wren had gone to the center that day to pick up birth control. Now, George grabs her and when she resists, he chokes her. Finally, she sputters out a threat, saying that her dad won’t “let you out of here alive”. When he’s dismissive, Wren makes the mistake of disclosing that the hostage negotiator is her father. George smiles in response.

Outside, Hugh thinks about how his wife Annabelle had left them around the time Wren was in kindergarten. In present day, his boss, Chief Monroe, chides him about not disclosing his relationship with Wren sooner. Then, George calls them. He acknowledges to Hugh that he’s aware of his relationship with Wren. Hugh asks about the gunshot they heard, and George says that he had to shoot someone (Olive) because the hostages tried to stab him. Hugh then tries to build a connection with George, talking about the ways they are similar as single fathers with daughters who went to the clinic without their knowledge.

Meanwhile, Beth is handcuffed to her bed to prevent her from leaving the room, and she learns that her prosecutor will be Willie Cork, who was known for charging Rennie Gibbs for “depraved heart” murder in 2006. Rennie delivered a stillborn child with its umbilical cord wrapped around its neck, but Willie attributed the death on to her cocaine usage. Willie had political aspirations and wanted to be known as being tough on crime.

Willie shows up at Beth’s room, and Mandy accuses him of trying to question Beth without her attorney present. As Mandy tries to convince him that he has no case, she and Willie argue about the distinction between the rights of unborn fetuses, versus the rights living human beings, versus the rights of the mother.

Chapter 3: Three p.m.

Hugh has just gotten off the phone with George, and he’s just realized that he’s heard Wren’s voice in the background. Chief Monroe interrupts his thoughts to introduce him to Quandt, who has just shown up with the SWAT team. Hugh explains that shots have been fired inside, but things have been quiet now for the past three hours.

Wren has just been yanked from her hiding place in a closet by George, though she managed to scratch his face in the process. George orders Izzy to tie up Wren’s hands. Wren asks Izzy about Aunt Bex, and Izzy says that Bex managed to get out. Wren thinks about over the years how she has been able to go to Bex about things she didn’t feel comfortable going to her dad about, like asking to be taken here to get birth control. Wren has started seeing a boy, Ryan, who she likes a lot.

Olive is dragged out from the closet as well. Olive, a retired professor, thinks about her wife, Peg. She tries to act as meek as possible, trying to use George’s assumptions about her to her advantage. She also starts thinking about how to get out of the situation, noticing that Wren has a phone when she sees her leg buzzing. Olive tries to talk to George calmly, introducing herself.

Outside, Bex is in the ambulance. As the EMT instructs her to relax, she thinks about Wren asking her to take her to the clinic.

Hugh calls George again and bluffs, telling George that his daughter Lil wants to speak to him. Inside, Louis sees as George’s demeanor changes in response to that information, and he becomes very still.

As George and Hugh talk, the hostages talk amongst themselves. Janine defends her anti-abortion stance, equating embryos to humans. Louie tells Janine about how he feels his work often helps children by preventing their lives from being torn apart and how it can let “children be children”.

Elsewhere, Beth is in the hospital talking with Mandy. Beth had purchased abortion drugs (misoprostal and mifepristone) off the Internet and had taken them at home, even though they are required to be administered at a clinic. It had resulted in hemorrhaging, which ended up with her in the ER. Mandy admits that she once was 13 weeks pregnant, but found out the baby had a genetic abnormality (holoprosencephaly) wouldn’t be able to live. She had to terminate the pregnancy. Mandy suffered three miscarriages after that and then stopped trying to have kids.

On the phone, George calls Hugh out for his bluff, but Hugh continues to bluff, claiming that Lil is following the news. Meanwhile, around George, the hostages have been trying to get his attention. Wren says that Joy needs to use the restroom. When George points a gun at Joy, Wren yells at him to leave her alone (which Hugh overhears). George turns on the TV to hear a newscaster reporting about how he had been dishonorably discharged from his military service in Bosnia due to the killing of civilians. Upset at the thought of Lil hearing that, he immediately shuts it off, throws a nearby lamp against the wall and hangs up on Hugh.

Outside, Hugh thinks about what he’d overheard in the background, both the news report and Wren’s voice. He calls over Quandt to tell him to cut of communications to prevent any information from getting to George (like the news) that wasn’t coming from him, so he can control the situation better. But that also means any hostages inside trying to contact them won’t be able to as well.

Inside, Olive, with her neuroscience background, thinks about the ways the brain lies to you, especially when trying to fill in information and false memories it thinks should be there. She wonders what things George’s brain has “pieced together inaccurately” to end up in this situation. Olive then tells George she also needs to use the bathroom. Instead of continuing to ask, she offers George a “Hobson’s choice” (a non-choice choice) of whether she should go first or Joy. George finally relents and takes her to the bathroom. She uses the opportunity to write a note to the other hostages on toilet paper, which reads: “There are six of us and one of him. We need a plan. Thoughts?”

Afterwards, when Joy goes into the bathroom stall, she sees the note and pens a response, suggesting that they jump him.

When Janine goes into the stall, Janine thinks about how she was disappointed that George didn’t seem to treat her any differently, even though she was anti-abortion, unlike the rest of the women. Seeing the toilet paper notes, she suggests that they should trip him and grab his gun.

Next, Wren thinks about how having a father that had always been there for her had made up for a mom that unfortunately hadn’t been. As she thinks about all the things he’d done for her, Wren goes into the bathroom, planning on taking the opportunity to text him an update on the situation inside. But she finds she has no service. Instead, she sees the toilet paper roll.

Izzy is the last one into the stall. As she walks over, she discreetly passes Wren a scalpel.

George’s mind is still on the newscaster’s report that he’d heard. In Bosnia, he’d come across two men raping a young girl. He’d intervened, shooting one and punching another as the girl ran off. But the crowd only saw the aftermath of an American soldier with two downed civilians, and George had been court-martialed. The girl’s family refused to admit she’d been sexually assaulted due to the stigma that would bring to them.

When he returned home, George was angry and drank excessively. One night, he has a dream about the girl where he angrily demands to know why she didn’t tell the truth, but wakes up to see himself choking his wife, Greta. Greta eventually leaves him. In present day, with these frustrated thoughts in his head, he kicks Louis’s already injured leg out of anger.

With that, the hostages are ready to enact their plan. Joy starts to pretend to be feeling a lot of pain. When George steps toward her, Janine trips him, and he drops the gun. Wren, with her hands tied, dives for it the same time that George does. She stabs him with the scalpel. He howls in pain, but that doesn’t prevent him from getting the gun back.

With the gun in his hands, he aims for Wren and pulls the trigger, but Olive jumps in front of the bullet.

Chapter 4: Two p.m.

At 2 p.m., Izzy is standing outside after having wheeled Bex out to get medical attention. Izzy is now supposed to turn around and head back inside, but for a moment she thinks about how easy it would be to escape the situation. Izzy thinks about how, as someone who has grown up poor, there was always a divide between what could be and the reality of her situation. She thinks about things like pretending she’d forgotten her school supplies at home when they couldn’t afford them and pretending to be full when there wasn’t enough food at home. Now, living with Parker, he didn’t understand why she needed to do things to prove she could stand on her own two feet before she could marry him.

As Izzy thinks about Louis still injured and in need of help inside, she turns and walks back. When she approaches, George roughly yanks her back inside. As she tends to Louis, Louis admits to Izzy about having once turned down performing an abortion because the woman had been racist. He didn’t know if he could perform on her fairly and was worried if anything went wrong she’d be overeager to blame him. He also talks about how the average anti-abortion protestor is “a middle-aged Caucasian male”, and they use black women as props in their fight. They frame these abortion rules as trying to “help” black women, but the same rules that apply to those black women apply to white women as well.

Outside, Bex sees it dawn on Hugh that she’s the hostage they’ve brought out. She tells Hugh that Wren is inside and alive. When Bex admits that she brought Wren there to get birth control, Hugh is taken aback that Wren wouldn’t be willing to ask him.

Pulling his attention back to George, Hugh calls him to say that he’s done a smart thing by releasing a woman in need of medical attention. Then, Hugh is informed by his team that George’s former pastor, Pastor Mike Kearns, is on the line to provide insight into George. The pastor mentions how George’s wife left him and gives Hugh George’s daughter’s name, Lil. Hugh instructs his team to find Lil.

Hugh’s mind wanders to Annabelle. He recalls how he’d figured out that she was cheating on him (starting with her car radio being set to a station he knew she didn’t listen to) with a man named Cliff Wargeddon. Hugh had tracked him down and confronted Annabelle, catching her while she was with Cliff.

Back inside, Joy helps Janine after Janine had been injured. Jay asks Janine if she meant the anti-abortion things she’d said or if it was a ruse to get George to let her leave. Janine admits that she was there to collect evidence of forced abortions. To Janine, it seems clear that human embryos lack the means to advocate for themselves, but shouldn’t be denied rights, just as you wouldn’t disregard the desires of someone in a coma. Joy and Janine end up arguing about their stances on abortion. Janine makes the point that adoption is always an option, but Joy points out that she grew up in foster care.

Joy thinks back to her childhood. She recalls how her mother had a string of guys in her life, some better than others and some that stuck around only briefly and others for years. When she was eight, her mother was with a man named Graves. There was constant fighting in their home until one day Joy walked in to see Graves viciously choking her mother. Joy had stabbed him in the back with a kitchen knife. Afterwards, Joy had been taken to a foster home and when she tried to go home, she realized her mother was still with Graves. Joy’s experiences in foster homes included being bullied and molested, and when she was 11 she started cutting herself.

Joy then thinks about Joe, who had finally admitted before he broke things off that he was married. Despite using the pill, she’d gotten pregnant.

Hidden in the closet, Olive tells Wren about her partner, Peg. Wren admits that she’s worried that she’ll die before ever falling in love.

George recalls being six years old and taking a wounded bird to his father to “fix”. His father had subsequently snapped the little bird’s neck, saying that he “put it out of its misery”. At the time, he was horrified, but looking around the room he thinks that “Violence, from one angle, looked like mercy from another.”

Outside, Hugh remembers ten years earlier when he was cop. He had talked a suicidal kid down from jumping off a building by making up a story about having a father who mistreated him in order to make the kid feel less alone and give him hope that things would get better. Afterwards, Hugh was recommended for hostage negotiation training.

In her hospital room, Beth meets Mandy, her public defender, who is a short African-American woman dressed in an unflattering suit. There’s also a cop stationed in her room, Nathan, but Mandy asks him to wait outside. Nathan complies because Mandy is his cousin.

With him gone, Mandy explains to Beth that her judge, Judge Pinot, is known for giving out maximum sentences. Also, even though Beth is technically a minor at 17, they can try her as an adult. Beth’s actions were illegal in multiple ways — by illegally ordering pills and illegally taking them without supervision, and Mississippi is a state that considers embryos to be people which opens Beth up to murder charges.

Beth then explains her story. She’d been working at a small grocery, Runyon’s, when a handsome college-aged stranger, John Smith, walked in looking to buy a six-pack. He’d invited her to his track meet, she’d had her first beer with him and she’d lost her virginity to him under the bleachers. Afterwards, he never called, and her attempts to track him down were impeded by how generic his name was.

After she found out she was pregnant, she knew she’d need an abortion. She took the bus to get to the center, 2.5 hours away. She claimed she was 25, but they asked for ID and turned her away, instructing her to get a judicial waiver. She applied for one, but the day of her hearing, the judge decided to take a trip to Belize with his wife and it was postponed. Knowing it would be too late by then, Beth had to find another solution. She’d looked online and the suggestions were terrifying, ranging from falling down stairs to hangers. In the end, she bought pills from China.

Outside the clinic, Hugh’s team is unable to track down anyone by the name of Lil Goddard. Hugh wonders if she’s even alive. Still, he offers to find her and let George talk to her if George promises to keep the remaining hostages safe. Inside, George has Hugh on speakerphone, and Wren listens to the sound of her father’s voice. She thinks of how she and her father would hike to watch the Perseid meteor shower each year.

Meanwhile, George thinks about Lil. He recalls how Pastor Mike’s wife, Earlene, had pointed out to George that he clearly needed help managing Lil’s snarled hair. She had kindly explained to him how to fix it, and George had followed her instructions. Soon, George braiding Lil’s hair became a ritual for them, which them became an opportunity for them to talk. Then, when she was 14, Lil started wanting to do her own hair.

Then, as George is on the phone, he hears a sneeze come from the closet. Izzy sneezes to pretend it’s her, but George immediately opens the closet door. Still on the line, Hugh hears as Wren says “No, no, no … don’t!” before George hangs up.

Chapter 5: One p.m.

At 1 PM, Bex is having trouble breathing. George has just fired some shots and takes a survey of the scared and injured people in front of him. George realizes that he doesn’t know what to do next since he came armed with a gun, but not with a plan. Outside, Hugh instructs a member of his team to find out more information on George. He also watches as Rachel, one of the people who escaped the center, blames Allen, an anti-abortion activist, for Janine being in there.

Dr. Ward and Izzy try to help Bex. Dr. Ward says she likely has air in her chest cavity, which they need to get out. Izzy tells George she needs to get supplies. When he says no, she insists, and he gives her until the count of ten to get any supplies. Then, Dr. Ward instructs her on how to put in a chest tube (he’s injured so he can’t do it himself). Afterwards, Bex whispers “thank you” and “save my niece”. Still, despite Izzy’s efforts, Bex remains in a perilous condition, and Izzy knows it’s imperative that they get her to a hospital.

Janine contemplates her work as an anti-abortion activist. As the youngest member of the group, Allen had wanted her to do a “vlog” exposing the inner workings of the clinic, which is why ended up there. The others listen ad she tries to explain to George that she’s not like the other people there, but he doesn’t want to hear it and hits her with his gun.

As Louis watches, he thinks of all the pro-lifers he’d performed abortions on. Despite their beliefs, they had a reason why they or their daughters were an exception to the rule. Afterwards, they’d continue calling him a killer.

Meanwhile, Joy thinks about how the day before she’d gone to the wrong clinic, one set up around the corner that seemed like it was deliberately trying to confuse patients that wanted to come to this clinic. The other clinic was an anti-abortion clinic that tried to talk her out of the procedure. When she’d finally found the this clinic, she’d spoken to Vonita, the owner of the Center, who addressed the lies she’d been told by the other clinic. Joy thinks sadly about how this clinic will likely close now that Vonita is dead.

Sitting in the dark in closet, Wren and Olive wonder what’s going on outside. Wren texts with her father, who attempts to comfort her.

In Beth’s hospital room, the cop standing watch, Officer Raymond, has been there for a while, but now Willie Cork and Mandy DuVille have just shown up to speak with her.

There’s a little talking, but very quickly a bailiff and judge enters. Mandy enters her “not guilty” plea. As Mandy argues with Willie, she asks him if he had a choice “between saving a fertilized egg in the IVF lab or a baby in the maternity ward, which would you choose?”, in order to point out the difference between the two. The judge doesn’t seem amenable to her arguments and ends up setting bail at $500,000.

Back at the Center, George contemplates the incredible feats he had to perform as a father in order to keep his daughter safe. Then he thinks about pretending he didn’t know how to do things so she could learn to do them herself. On the phone, Hugh tells a news station to provide a shot of the view outside the Center to show George that there’s no SWAT team out there. In exchange, George agrees to send out a hostage. Izzy suggest Bex, and they get her into a wheelchair to bring her out.

Chapter 6: Noon

At noon, Hugh is the third person to arrive on the scene, though soon 30-ish other policemen are there as well. He sees that he has a sew of text messages from Wren. He feels weak when he sees them. Wren says that there’s a shooting and she’s in there with Aunt Bex.

Hugh immediately runs toward the clinic, but is stopped when Rachel Greenbaum (who had escaped from the Center) tries to speak to him, and he regains his senses. Hugh then shows Rachel photos of people (based off the license plates of cars in the lot), and she identifies George as the shooter. Rachel says that George had said “What did you do to my baby?” before shooting. Rachel also says she feels guilty because she was the one who buzzed George into the building.

Inside, lying there in pain, Bex wonders what will become of her work when she’s dead and whether she’ll achieve greater fame by dying young. Dr. Ward, too, is seriously injured. He thinks about Bras Coupé, the nickname for a slave who was infamous for having escaped many times even after being shot. According to legend, Bras Coupé had become a ghost, and Dr. Ward wonders if he too needed to become a ghost now as well. Dr. Ward then passes out.

When the shooting began, Joy had been in a recovery room where she had been placed following her abortion. She thinks about a toddler she used to babysit, Samara, whose mother had smothered her in her sleep “so that her daughter would stay an angel forever”. Once she heard the shots, she’d tried to leave, but then ducked into a room to hide upon hearing footsteps.

George thinks about a woman he knew who once got an abortion, Alice, after she learned she had cancer and needed treatment. Much later, after she was healthy and pregnant again, he recalls her saying that it still wasn’t a replacement for her first baby. Meanwhile, he avoids killing Izzy because she’s pregnant and he doesn’t want to kill the baby.

George forces Izzy to help him round up everyone and get them into one place. They find Joy cowering in the lab. She sees Olive and Wren in a closet, but since George isn’t checking behind her, she pretends it’s empty and closes the door.

George then takes everyone’s cell phones and tosses them into the trash. He then barricades the front door. Meanwhile, Izzy tends to Dr. Ward and Bex. She cuts off the flow of blood to Dr. Ward’s leg to stop the bleeding, but she also knows if it’s left like that too long, then it will need to be amputated.

Janine thinks to herself that she’d been waiting for when “God would punish her”. She recalls growing up without many friends because of spending so much time helping out at home to take care of her brother with Down Syndrome. At 16, the popular girl at school, Monica, had taken her under her wing to befriend her and invited her to a party.

Drinking for the first time, Janine had gotten drunk and ended up there after almost everyone else had left and had been gang raped. She soon found out she was pregnant. Where she lived, it was easy to get an abortion, so she took some money from her parents and did it. When she got home, she found out her brother had their their dog out by accident in her absence, and it was hit by a car. Afterwards, she never told anyone about it to pretend it had never happened.

Outside, Hugh dials the landline for the Center. Izzy picks up and hands the phone to George. Hugh gives George his number. When he asks George what he wants, George says what he wants is to “bring my grandchild back to life”.

Chapter 7: Eleven a.m.

At 11, Wren is at waiting room of the Center with Aunt Bex. Olive has just finished her appointment and received unwelcome news, so Vonita invites her to sit down. Meanwhile, Izzy thinks about how Parker’s parents took them out for a meal that cost roughly half of what she makes in a week, and Parker had then proposed. In the recovery room, Joy is wheeled in.

Outside, George is sitting in his truck. He tells himself that his daughter Lil must’ve been pressured to have an abortion. He conceals his pistol in his waistband, and his pockets are full of ammunition.

Then, as Wren is sitting there, she hears a buzzer and George enters, demanding to know “What did you do to my baby?” before immediately shooting. Wren cannot see Vonita anymore, instead a pool of blood is forming. Bex urges Wren to “run”, but is shot and collapses on the floor. Wren turns to Olive for help. Olive says they need to get out. At first Wren insists on taking Bex, but they can’t carry her so Olive says they should get out and call an ambulance. They try to open the front door, but it doesn’t budge since you apparently have to buzzed out. Instead, they hide in a cleaning closet. Wren has her phone, so Olive tells her to call the police.

When the shooting starts, Janine is posing as someone who is unsure about whether or not to get an abortion. She’s waiting for the woman working there, Graciela, to say something incriminating so she can prove that they coerce people into getting abortions. She knows she need to return to Allen with something usable. When a loud strange noise is heard, Graciela goes outside to check the situation and the falls to the floor, shot in the face. Janine runs out of the room.

Izzy exits the bathroom to find a woman shot (Bex) and another (Vonita) dead. She hears other gunshots from somewhere else in the Center. When Izzy sees Janine emerge, she asks her to press down on Bex’s wound while she runs to get supplies to help her. Janine is tempted to just run for the door, but agrees to help.

Elsewhere, Beth is in a hospital room when to policemen appear to handcuff her to the bed. She turns to the nurse, Jayla, and realizes that Jayla called the police. Beth asks about HIPAA, but Jayla informs her that HIPAA doesn’t apply when a life is in danger (meaning, the fetus’s).

In the police station, Hugh has just had an impromptu office birthday party from his co-workers when he’s called into the Chief’s office. As they’re talking, they get the Code Red about the active shooter situation.

Louis is talking to the nurse, Harriet, following Joy’s procedure when the gunshots go off outside. He’s trying to comfort Harriet when he sees the shooter appear in the doorframe. When the man shoots, Harriet falls on Louis, and Louis pretends to be dead. Izzy goes into the room to see the two of them, and she rushes over to check on them. George tells her to move away. When she refuses, he threatens to shoot her, but Izzy tells him that she’s pregnant.

Chapter 8: Ten a.m.

At 10 A.M., Bex is pulling up to the center. Originally, she wasn’t planning on going in, but when she sees all the protestors harass Wren, she changes her mind. At the same time, Hugh is walking into his surprise 40th birthday party at work. Izzy is in the Center’s bathroom, dealing with morning sickness. Olive has just learned she has Stage 4 cervical cancer, and she likely has 6-8 months left to live.

Wren bypasses a line of protestors and checks in at the front desk for her appointment. She recognizes one of the protestors as a mother of one of the students at her school who had been protesting contraception as well. Wren thinks to herself that being anti-abortion as well as anti-contraception seems counterintuitive.

Beth watches as her father walks away from her after she admits that she’d gone to an anti-abortion clinic. Jayla, the nurse, overhears and demands to know the truth because Beth had previously claimed she didn’t know that she was pregnant. When Beth admits it reluctantly. Jayla goes outside and calls her husband, Nathan.

Because Janine is pretending to be pregnant, the Center has her take a state-mandated ultrasound, and she is nervous, knowing it will reveal that she is not, in fact, pregnant. The state requires that they take one and offer to show it to pregnant women who want abortions.

Joy is 15 weeks pregnant, and Louis thinks about how these abortions are the most difficult. Additionally, due to the false assertion by “nonscientists” that fetuses could feel pain at 16 weeks, forceps were not allowed to stop the heartbeat, so a riskier approach had to be used instead. He talks to Joy as he completes the procedure to calm her down. As he performs the operation, he contemplates the development of a fetus. He also thinks about the legal rights of fetuses vs that of women and that “perhaps the question wasn’t When does a fetus become a person? but When does a woman stop being one?

Afterwards, Dr. Ward informs Joy that she is no longer pregnant.

Chapter 9: Nine a.m.

Around 9 A.M., Hugh gets an unexpected call from Annabelle, asking about Wren and wishing him a happy birthday. Wren is in school taking a test about the female reproductive system, but she gets out of class by saying she has “cramps”. Instead of going to the nurse, she meets Aunt Bex outside. Meanwhile, Olive says goodbye to her wife Peg, as she heads to her appointment which she claims is a routine checkup.

At the Center, Louis chats with Vonita. As they talk about the day’s scheduling, Louis thinks about the economics of female reproductive clinics. Despite people campaigning to “defund” these organizations, federal funding already isn’t permitted for abortions. Instead, abortions are pretty much the only self-funding procedure that these clinics offer. If they are “defunded”, then it’s all the other services (general gynecological care, etc.) that would disappear, and they would likely become abortion-only.

Joy is at Center after having been administered Cytotec to help her dilate in advance of her procedure. When Graciela offers her to let her see the state-mandated sonogram and listen to the fetal heartbeat, Joy is surprised to find herself saying yes. She asks to keep a copy of the photo as well.

Elsewhere, Beth wakes up in a hospital where her father is at her bedside. He tells her that she lost a lot of blood. Jayla comes in and asks Beth if she was pregnant, given the amount of blood she lost. Beth says no, but her father understands the truth. When Jayla disappears behind the curtain, Beth admits it to him, and he leaves.

Around the same time, Janine is entering the Center, hoping not to arouse suspicion that she’s only pretending. They run some tests on her and she begins the group counseling for before the procedure. Janine is informed that she’s eligible to have the procedure in the 24 hours following the counseling. They also distribute pamphlets about alternative options and information about the development of the fetus, as required by the state.

Louis is also brought in to address the group, including being required to state things that are not medically true. He tells them them that an abortion increases their risk of breast cancer, despite lack of scientific support. He also cites possible damage to various reproductive parts, though a birth (as opposed to an abortion) would result in a much higher risk.

Meanwhile, Izzy arrives at the Center, running late and feeling frazzled.

At his home, George holds a pistol and looks at a paper he’d found in his daughter’s room, entitled “Medication Abortion authorization and Informed Consent, The Center for Women’s Health, Jackson”.

Chapter 10: Eight a.m.

At 8 A.M., Wren is celebrating her father’s birthday by making him breakfast. Hugh senses that Wren is hiding something from him, but he assumes it’s some type of birthday surprise. Instead, Wren is hiding her plan to get birth control because it offered more protection than just condoms. After she leaves, Bex calls to wish Hugh a happy birthday as well. Hugh has a number of older siblings, but Bex is the only one who consistently remembers his birthday.

Around the same time, Janine puts on a blond wig in preparation for her sting operation. Olive is in bed with her wife, Peg. Joy takes an Uber to the Center. When she’d dropped off, the driver says she left a blue baby blanket in the backseat, but Joy is sure it wasn’t there when she got in.

Meanwhile, Izzy is getting off a shift at the hospital where she works. She had switched a shift with her coworker, Jayla, to arrange for two days off to get an abortion.

Elsewhere, Louis is on a redeye flight from Atlanta to Mississippi, a trip he makes 4 times a month to provide abortion services. When he lands, he heads to the Center and spots Allen there, as usual. While he typically doesn’t engage, today he has 15 minutes and opts to invite Allen to go with him to McDonalds. They have a chat about their differing views on abortion and part ways.

Finally, Beth is in the bathroom with severe cramps, then tissue slips out from her, which she tries to hide in the trash can. She’s blacking out when her father finds her in the bathroom and takes her into the hospital. It’s finally revealed that George is Beth’s father and Beth’s full name is Elizabeth Goddard.

After getting off the phone with Hugh, Bex looks at an old photo of herself at 14, after having given birth to baby Hugh (so, we learn that Bex is actually Hugh’s mother). Bex chose not to terminate her pregnancy, but she also thinks about the life she gave up when she chose to have Hugh instead. She then thinks about all the good that Hugh had done in his life.


As she runs toward the tent, Wren senses a change in the atmosphere and turns to look at George when the shots ring out. It turns out that both Hugh and George let off shots. George is dead, and Hugh has a bullet in the arm. The book ends with Wren leaving with her father (“it was the first time she held his hand, instead of the other way around.”)

If this summary was useful to you, please consider supporting this site by leaving a tip ($2, $3, or $5) or joining the Patreon!

Share this post


Bookshelf -- A literary set collection game