Jodi Picoult

The Pact

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The Pact Summary

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The Pact is a story about two teenagers who, from all accounts, are seemingly destined to be together. Chris and Emily have lived next door to one another for seventeen years. They are closer than siblings and their families even wish them to be married. And yet their lives are forever altered by a dark “pact” one night that renders one child injured and the other dead. This pact, or secret, of the title’s namesake is one that will cause both sets of parents, as well as the reader, to seriously question morality, as well as the underlying themes of friendship and love.

The two families at the center of the narrative are the Golds and the Hartes. They have lived next to each other for seventeen years, and became friends when both women were pregnant with their first child. The children were born within a month of one another and have been “destined” to be together from the start. Indeed, the children are now much older and have been dating for three years when the narrative begins. For all intents and purposes, things are looking up for the two families.

The hopes and dreams of the families are soon shattered one night when, after dining together only hours earlier, they each receive a phone call from law enforcement. They find out that both children have been injured, and rush to the hospital for more details. Chris’s father, James, arrives to the hospital and sees that his son has a large cut on his face, but appears all right. The Golds arrive as well, and are escorted into a small room where they are told that Emily died upon arrival. Adding to their shock, they learn that Emily was shot. Though they initially suspect foul play, such as a carjacking, they are informed by police that Emily’s death appears to have been a suicide.

The two families are further shocked days later when a police detective suggests that Chris actually shot Emily. This bit of news sends both families spiraling into their own personal hells. Emily’s mother, Melanie, accepts the news. She is devastated and searching for answers, so is willing to blame Chris for the tragedy. Michael, who is Emily’s father, has his reservations about the possibility. He does not think Chris capable of shooting Emily. The Harte’s do not believe their son capable of doing such a thing, but must come to terms with the matter when Chris says the tragedy was a suicide pact gone wrong. They are able to believe, at least, this story instead of a cold-blooded shooting. And yet they are afraid of another possible tragedy now that Chris has revealed he is suicidal.

Picoult’s narrative is infused with plot twists and turns, and the families are again rocked with tragedy when it is revealed from an autopsy only a few days after Emily’s funeral that she was pregnant. No one knew this bit of information, and the police use it to provide a motive for Emily’s death at the hands of Chris. The police suggest that Chris killed Emily because she was pregnant and that he did not want to deal with a child destroying his future. Chris is arrested on his eighteenth birthday and charged with murder.

While Chris is finding it hard in jail where he is awaiting trial, his lawyer, Jordan McAfee, prepares the teen’s defense. Jordan makes it clear that he does not want to know the truth about what happened. Instead, he will argue that the two planned to die together in a suicide pact on the night in question. Chris, though, reveals that he was never suicidal, and so is unable to testify on account of invalidating the argument. Despite the fact that Jordan does not want to know the truth, Chris feels more and more that he needs to get the truth out. A turning point comes when his cellmate is convicted of killing his infant son. His cellmate commits suicide in prison, and because of the act, Chris finally reveals the truth of the night to his mother, Gus.

The revelation makes it hard for Gus as she must testify for Chris and cannot lie under oath. When Chris sees his mother’s plight and how distraught she is, he stops her from testifying and tells Jordan that he needs to explain what really happened.  Though Jordan is reluctant, he finally allows Chris to explain himself. Chris explains that, on the night in question, he did in fact shoot Emily. He later reveals how Emily begged him for help in her suicide. Chris thought he could stop her if he just went along with things. Emily, though, refused to change her mind, and so Chris left her alone with the gun. When he returned, he found that Emily was unable to kill herself. Because of his feelings for her, he finally agrees to help her. He held the gun, and Emily held it as well, and pulled the trigger with him.

The admission is devastating, and everyone believes that Chris will indeed be found guilty of murder. When the jury returns, however, Chris is found not guilty. Though he is allowed to return home, the friendship and lives of the two families is forever shattered. The Golds move from their home of seventeen years, and the Hartes are left to rebuild their shattered lives.

Picoult’s narrative forces the reader to question morality in different ways. From the standpoint of Emily’s parents, there can be nothing moral about Chris’s hand in their daughter’s death. And yet if what Chris says it true, that he was helping Emily at her request, in an act that she wanted, they must face the fact that Chris was just trying to lessen the pain for their daughter. Likewise, the Hartes must also deal with what morality means. Though their son has not killed his girlfriend in cold blood, he confessed to aiding in the suicide. The jury, too, as well as the reader, must decide if views on morality can change on a shifting scale in light of the fact that Chris did not intentionally kill Emily based on premeditation, but based on her asking him to help her pull the trigger. The novel highlights that there are often more than two sides to every story, and that there is more than one definition of “right” and “wrong.”