Book review and synopsis for A Spark of Light by Jodi Picoult, a story about a hostage standoff at an abortion clinic.
A Spark of Light tells the stories of the lives of a group of people when a man enters an abortion center in Mississippi and begins shooting. The shooting develops into a hostage situation, and the hostage negotiator soon learns that his teen daughter, Wren McElroy, is one of the hostages inside.
The novel is told in reverse chronological order, with each chapter going back one hour to explore the motivations and stories of the people on the scene and how they ended up there.
In this well-researched novel, Picoult uses her narrative to provide a thought-provoking and thorough look at the issues surrounding abortion.
(The Detailed Plot Summary is also available, below)
Detailed Plot SummaryChapter-by-Chapter SummarySee the Chapter-by-Chapter Summary of A Spark of LightQuick Plot Summary
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.
For more detail, see the full Chapter-by-Chapter Summary.