Let’s just start off by saying that Jodi Picoult isn’t my favorite author, but sometimes she makes you think, and sometimes, she can put both sides of an argument on the table in a narrative form that can be somewhat entertaining. Picoult is sort of a guilty pleasure for me, except I rarely enjoy it, and Perfect Match was no exception. While it is meant to be a gripping and tense narrative about the explosion of lives after the molestation of a small boy in a small town and somewhat more importantly, the self-examination of a working mother after the ‘unthinkable’ happens to her son (and she responds to it) it’s more of a stuck on band-aid. There’s no big reveal, no hugely tense moment, and there’s also a dearth of character development to be had. This is a Popsicle stick story about how the best part of the thing – the actual Popsicle – sort of fell off in development.
Okay. So, Nina Frost is a Maine DA. She tries a zillion cases a year. A lot of these are sexual assault on minors cases, and a lot of those are stalled before they even reach open court because young children are not competent witnesses. Amazingly, when you ask young children questions like “where did he touch you” and all of that right out in public, they tend to freeze. Well, fine. I could have told you that, mine freeze if I ask them where I’m gonna touch them if they steal the ice cream again, and that’s right at home. So, pre-loaded with that information, we’re given a completely random “Hi, your kid stopped talking today!” and EVERYONE. GOES. CRAZY. Lo and behold, the little boy has been molested, this is verified by a doctor, and CPS hops in, giving us the only interesting character in the drama (and even she is woefully underdeveloped, she’s more like a bit of talking wallpaper that occasionally babysits and at one point, loses the kid.) Look, I get that having your kid stop talking is kind of worrisome, but to have him stop just because it prettily frames a dramatic moment (“father” is involved, but not the way you’d think) is just cheap.
So the book loses points right out the window, because I just can’t see this kid working the way she writes him. Any dialogue from his point of view is loaded with things I don’t think your average six year old understands: shame, for instance. Uncleanliness. These are things you kind of have to learn, and he’s had a cookie-cutter happy-daycare existence other than this molestation (which I admit is major, but at the time the story opens, it had already happened at least a week before. He was talking right afterward! At one point in the narrative, Nina remembers that he came home from church in the wrong undies several weeks before the story opens, and we’re told through a flashback that yes, that was the time of the molestation. That was several weeks of the child talking. And then one day, he stops.)
More places it loses points: Nina’s in a love triangle. I am so sick of love triangles. This one is her husband and of course, her bff since forever, a police officer. Not to mention, she’s got a bunch of other male friends, all of whom treat her like “one of the guys.” I get that that’s a thing, but where is Nina’s family? Her parents? Siblings? Anyone? She spends so much time alone or with her male friend that yep, by page 50 you know he’s going to be playing Hide the Salami, and yes, he does. Does this destroy her marriage? Make her question her lifestyle or her incredibly aggressive attitude? Nope. Everything’s gorgeous and hunky-dory and “sanity” wins the day, even though in standard Picoult style, someone dies (two someones, really, plus a cat.)
I also object to the abuse of mental health issues as “provocation of murder.” Nina, after killing her son’s alleged rapist, pretends – baldly, as in she explains to several people that she is pretending, and that she knows how to game the system on this – that she is insane. It’s another cheap move. I was disgusted by this. I am even more disgusted that several of the story’s male leads accept this plan and think it is “wow.” Yeah. No. And of course, in more Picoult style, there is a twist to be had – the alleged rapist is innocent, even with a “perfect match” in DNA. The science is great, of course, but urgh.
I wanted to like this book. I just couldn’t get in, which is massively frustrating. Nina is too proud and too hot-tempered, and she takes crazy risks and doesn’t think things through the way you’d expect that lawyer from the start of the story to function. It’s like Split Personality Nina, and the good personality got murdered like a quarter of the way in, leaving us Homicidal Maniac Barbie. Her husband is a soggy washcloth. Her son is a weird amalgam of rape victim and too-mature-for-his-age. Her bff, the cop, is completely boring because he’s nothing more than gone on her. You could rename this novel from “Perfect Match” to “How to Game the System and Get Away With It Because Your Kid is Special And Doesn’t Have to Deal With This” and it would be a lot less snappy but way closer to the story you’re about to read.