Jodi Picoult’s contemporary novel A Spark of Light
(2018) centers on a girl held hostage inside a women’s health clinic and her desperate attempts to contact her father waiting outside. The novel received an overwhelmingly positive reception from critics and literary reviewers for its careful treatment of sensitive themes. It has also been praised for its original narrative structure and its depiction of the arguments on all sides of the pro-life debate. Picoult is the award-winning, New York Times
bestselling author of more than 20 contemporary novels. Some of her books have been adapted for television.
The protagonist is 15-year-old Wren McElroy. Her father, Hugh, is a hostage negotiator for the local police force. When the novel begins, Wren is at the Center, a women’s reproductive health services clinic. The Center offers confidential care to all women, no matter who they are or how much they can afford to pay for treatment.
Wren wants to sleep with her boyfriend, and she needs birth control. She plans to get contraceptives without anyone knowing. Although she is only 15, she knows that the Center staff will keep everything confidential. She leaves for school as normal, but she skips out of health class to make her 9:00 a.m. appointment.
There are other women at the clinic when Wren arrives: Joy, who is booked in for an abortion; Izzy, who is considering an abortion but worries that it is morally wrong; and Janine doesn’t disclose why she is there. A man called Louie comes out to speak with Joy about the procedure, and Wren realizes that she doesn’t want to end up in the same position one day.
Meanwhile, Beth wakes up in the emergency room at the local hospital. Her father, George, is at her bedside. He phoned an ambulance after she passed out in the bathroom with excruciating pain and heavy bleeding. She tells the doctors that she didn’t know she was pregnant, but once George leaves the room, she admits that she wanted an abortion, but the clinic wouldn’t go through with it because of her age. She approached a backstreet doctor for an illegal abortion. When George hears this, he blames the clinic for Beth almost dying.
Back at the clinic, Wren is still waiting for her appointment. Her aunt Bex shows up for moral support. Janine plans to orchestrate a protest inside the clinic, because she doesn’t believe in abortions, but she is still waiting for the right moment. Joy has her surgery and Izzy isn’t sure that she can go through with hers. Another woman, Olive, finds out that she has terminal cancer; she is struggling to take in the news.
George, armed with a gun, drives to the clinic and opens fire. He shoots a staff member and Bex. Wren and Olive duck inside a closet, Joy is stuck in recovery, and Izzy blocks the gunman from shooting the doctor. She tells him that she is pregnant, so if he shoots her, he is killing a baby. Meanwhile, the police and Hugh arrive on the scene. He still has no idea that Wren is trapped inside.
George makes Izzy round up the hostages. She sees Olive and Wren in the cupboard, but she pretends they aren’t there. George doesn’t know any better, and Izzy prays that they stay quiet. Wren wants to text Hugh, but she is terrified that George will somehow hear her and shoot them both.
Hugh negotiates a deal with George. If he lets Bex go, he will pull the SWAT team back from the scene. George agrees and releases Bex. Bex tells Hugh about Wren; now he realizes that his own daughter might die. In the meantime, Janine begs George to let her go because she is on his side. He knocks her unconscious and puts her in recovery with Joy.
Back at the hospital, police arrest Beth. They assume that she knew about George’s plans to hijack the clinic. She claims that she didn’t know anything about it, but she knows that they won’t believe her. All she can hope is that George doesn’t kill anyone, because there will be no coming back from that.
Meanwhile, George finds Olive and Wren. He makes them line up with the other hostages. Olive signals to Janine that she has a plan. If Janine trips George, then she can grab the gun and hold him hostage. Janine trips George, but the gun moves out of reach. George grabs it and aims at Wren. Olive shields Wren, taking the bullet because she knows she is dying anyway.
Wren tells George that Hugh is her father. George panics and aims the gun at Wren again. He lets the other hostages go in exchange for keeping Wren. Izzy decides to keep her baby, and Joy comes to terms with her own abortion. Janine goes to the police station to tell them what happened.
Finally, George lets Wren go. Just when Hugh thinks everything is over, George takes a shot at Wren. He misses and Hugh shoots him. The police take the wounded George away. Wren tells Hugh that she is sorry for lying to him. They go to the hospital to check on Beth. Olive’s family mourns her death.