By Ekta R. Garg
December 1, 2021
Genre: Women’s fiction
Release date: November 30, 2021
Rated: Bordering on Bookmarking it / 3.5 stars
A woman goes on vacation at the start of the pandemic and gets stranded. Away from her loved ones and her home, she struggles with whether her life is really on track and realizes she may want to chart a new course for herself. Jodi Picoult returns with her trademark attention to detail in a book that’s too self-aware with Wish You Were Here.
At 29, Diana O’Toole is on course to hit all of the milestones she’s set for herself: married by 30, kids by 35, a home in the New York City suburbs, and a promotion at Sotheby’s. She’s just an associate specialist at the famous auction house, but Diana is about to close one of the most coveted art deals in years. Even if her boss hates that Diana, a junior member of the company, initiated the deal, there’s no way she’ll be able to deny Diana the new position once the auction goes through.
Her boyfriend, Finn, is a surgical resident in New York. They’ve talked off and on about marriage, and now Diana knows Finn is going to pop the question. She found the ring and thinks he’ll do it on their upcoming vacation to the Galapagos. They’ve been saving for ages for this trip, a first in what they both hope will be many international vacations to see the world.
Days before they’re supposed to leave, though, in early March of 2020, the hospital asks Finn to stay home. A new virus is starting to creep across the city, and even though everyone on the news says it’s nothing the hospital staff suspects otherwise. Diana waffles. She really wants to see the Galapagos; after poring over guidebooks and websites for weeks, she feels like she’s already there. But she doesn’t want to go alone.
Finn tells her to go anyway, and after some reluctance she does. The minute she lands, though, Diana knows she’s made a mistake. Everyone is leaving the island, and her hotel is shuttered. No restaurants are open, and no one speaks English. Plus her luggage is lost. She’s thousands of miles from home with nothing to eat, nothing to wear, and nowhere to stay.
An elderly woman takes pity on Diana and lets her move into an empty apartment. With minimal cell service, Diana can’t even talk to Finn. When she manages to catch a signal, emails from him pour into her inbox. The virus isn’t just a virus, he says. It’s a disaster.
Diana is beside herself with worry, but she’s also restless. The island is under lockdown, but she meets a teen with secrets. As their friendship develops and Diana gets to know others on the island, she begins to question whether her life plan really made so much sense after all. She’s eager to talk it all over with Finn, but it doesn’t look like she’s leaving any time soon and she starts to think maybe the virus is a sign that she needs to hit the pause button on everything she’s ever wanted.
Author Jodi Picoult takes care in developing her characters and storyline in every book she writes, and once again her depth of research is unparalleled. Given that the pandemic is ongoing, however, some readers may be wary of reading this book because of crisis fatigue. Also, the influx of information released between the start of the pandemic and this book’s release nearly two years later is vast, which makes it difficult to suspend disbelief to accept Diana and Finn’s naivete.
Despite Picoult’s clear dedication to the story, the book comes off as too self-aware. Within a day of arriving at the island, Diana talks about “social distancing” with an ease that just didn’t exist in March 2020. In later scenes, she runs across islanders wearing masks without batting an eye or wondering about the benefits. Time and again, the lack of any connection to the outside world is mentioned—the plot depends on it in many places—yet Diana’s acceptance of the pandemic can only belong to a well-informed person.
The second half of the book, though, is where Picoult’s work shines and the story comes into its own. A fantastic plot twist brings Diana’s entire life into question in only the way Picoult can do so. There’s always something to learn from a Jodi Picoult novel. This one is no exception. I recommend Wish You Were Here Borders on Bookmarking it.