Though this has the qualities I associate with fiction, it felt a lot like being forced to listen to a room full of college kids who just read Nietzsche for the first time and come home to perform that knowledge for hours *at* me - without asking 1) if I already know this, 2) if I care to listen to all of their newfound knowledge, and 3) if I agree with their strong opinions.
That's how I felt for much of the second two sections of this book (and I won't even go near the author's note that follows -- beyond saying that it's the best example of mansplaining a woman could hope to portray.) I have no problem with a white writer writing a person of color. I do have a problem with a fiction that is only thinly disguised "racial sensitivity 101" built on a cadre of stereotypical "types." I felt like Jodi Picoult took a class (and I was right - she did!), saw the light, feels woke, got serious, and set out to explain it all to all of us, without asking us to join in the conversation - or what we could hope to bring to it - much like an author who assumes you don't know any of the big words she uses. It was the long passages of internal dialogue that killed this book dead for me. The "aha" moments that took up pages and pages and then more pages repeatedly were so awfully serious and so awfully lecture-like, they could have been lifted from racial sensitivity 101 -- which made them completely unbelievable because as we teach in those classes, changing one's racial mindset takes a long time and is an internal process that cannot be done through thoughts alone. Practice will help, awareness is key, but no change like this happens overnight. I've taught those classes, and they sound just like this book, with the caveat I just made about changing (even when you start out as a stereotype, like every single character in this book.) Nonfiction exists for a reason. I thought this was a story - not a lecture, but I was wrong. Jodi Picoult doesn't realize that she's become the white savior that Kennedy is supposed to portray.
The book felt extremely condescending to the reader. Picoult should now wait while I go take a class on writing, interview a few writers, then I will type my long, heartfelt, dissertation length "aha" moments in a story and she should be FORCED to read my new feelings about writing. Because that's just about how ridiculous the inner dialogue of her characters sounded to me.
Two books I can recommend to Picoult or anyone else who actually cares about race and all the feelings white people are now having that I've read this year that cover similar topics: So You Want to Talk about Race and Why I’m No Longer Talking to White People about Race. If you want to go deeper, there are so many better books, both fiction and nonfiction.
The story's basic foundation could have held up a lovely tale. Picoult got indulgent with her newfound awareness and had her characters thinking and behaving in unrealistic ways to cram more of that knowledge into their heads, then she polished it off with an ending torn from a Disney Princess's wishbook. It all became very trite and downright silly by the end.