This is the first novel I’ve ever read about the COVID-19 crisis, and in Jodi Picoult’s hands those now far-distant-almost-forgotten-bad-memories become real and vivid.
Jodi Picoult does what every great author does ~ puts her characters into impossible situations to give the reader the pleasure of watching them escape.
So we have two ambitious millennials ~ Finn, a doctor in NYC, who in March 2020 is on the front lines of the COVID disaster as New York City reels from the impact of the early wave of the disease. And then there is his girlfriend Diana, a rising star at Sotheby’s who finds herself trapped on a remote island in the Galapagos due to lockdown.
Like most young people who are college-educated and ambitious, Finn and Diana have A PLAN. They plan to marry within the year. They plan to go to every UNESCO heritage site. They are planning which house to live in, how many children to have and when, and what kind of dog they should purchase. They have a bucket list of destinations they wish to travel to, and the Galapagos Islands is the first of many. Finn and Diana have been dreaming about this vacation for four years, but on 15 March 2020, COVID rears its ugly head.
Finn, the doctor, cannot go, but he tells Diana to go without him and enjoy herself.
Which is how she arrives on the island of Isabela the day that all the tourists leave. Why Diana doesn’t turn around and take the boat back to the mainland with them is a question she will ask herself often. But she doesn’t. And so gets trapped on Isabela island when the Government of Ecuador declares a complete lockdown due to COVID.
The hotel is closed, she has limited funds, and speaks no Spanish. But a local family is kind to her, starting with the grandmother (Abuela) and troubled grand-daughter Beatrice. For some reason, Diana is able to reach Beatrice and spends a good deal of time with her, concerned about the 14-year-old’s mental health. She is kind to a bullied boy, drawing a likeness of him. As a result, she is able to barter her drawings for food. Eventually, even Beatrice’s hostile father Gabriel softens, and of course they enter into a relationship.
And so Jodi Picoult leads us down the garden path of Diana’s romance with Gabriel and her growing involvement with his family, before she pulls the rug out from under us.
Back in New York City, Diana is not nearly as kind to boyfriend Finn as she was to the family on Isabela. Like The Book of Two Ways, Jodi Picoult’s previous novel, Wish You Were Here turns into a novel with colliding storylines, in which the female protagonist becomes extremely unlikable, as several readers noted. However, that should not put you off this book, which is a gem, and shows Ms. Picoult at the height of her powers. Five Stars.