I don’t run into many people that read a lot, let alone people that can recommend a book or author that not only do they like, but think I will like. So naturally I was pleased when someone told me about an author I’d never read, Jodi Picoult, and some of the books she’s written that sounded interesting to me. I wrote a bunch of them down and added them to my reading list, and kept an eye out for one in particular whenever I visited the library. And that’s today’s book, The Pact.
Unfortunately, I never saw The Pact at the library. I could have picked any other book by Jodi Picoult instead, but considering the premise of this book, I really wanted my first impressions of this author to be from this particular book. Luckily, a friend of mine just finished reading it and was nice enough to let me borrow it.
The Pact is about a supposed suicide pact between two high school students, Chris and Emily. Emily dies, but Chris is held in jail because the police think he murdered Emily. Chris and Emily have also been friends for all of their lives and, after middle school, lovers. Not only do I think the premise is interesting, but those of you that have followed me for a long time know I struggle with depression and am particularly interested in stories involving depression.
Unfortunately, The Pact wasn’t quite what I was expecting. I sort of had my doubts when I looked at the cover; it kind of had a Nicholas Sparks vibe to it and I was sort of wondering if this was going to be more melodrama than realistic. Seeing “a love story” underneath the title also raised a red flag for me. I seriously hoped this wasn’t going to be a book that romanticized depression and suicide.
First though, more about the plot. The book opens with four people gathering at a restaurant for dinner. We can tell immediately that they get along well and meet up fairly often. These are the parents of Chris and Emily. Surprisingly, they’re just as much, if not more, main characters than Chris and Emily. And I don’t want to start off negatively right away, but it took me a good fifty or sixty pages to even tell these people apart. None of them have much in terms of personality (no one in this book does, really), and perspectives will jump around quickly and randomly. So for the sake of quick reference for whoever wants it, here’s a simple chart of the characters and their relationships.
James (father) + Gus (mother) –> Chris (son)
Michael (father) + Melanie (mother) –> Emily (daughter)
I know I must look pretty stupid for not being able to juggle four characters, but when they’re all introduced at once and the only identifiable trait of each of them is “parent,” and the perspective of the story changes as often as it does so early, it legitimately confused me.
Anyway, moving on — the four parents have their dinner and return home. Late at night, they get a call from the hospital. Their kids were brought there, and when they arrive they learn Emily is dead from a gunshot to the head and Chris had to get stitches for something. Everyone is naturally upset, I guess even more so because Chris’ family and Emily’s family have been neighbors and friends since the kids were born and they all look at each other as one family.
Chris reluctantly explains that he and Emily were planning to kill themselves that night, but for whatever reason Chris didn’t. This eventually leads to the police suspecting and finally arresting Chris for murdering Emily. Melanie, Emily’s mother, declares her hatred for James, Gus, and Chris. James is embarrassed because his son is suicidal and a criminal and believes their family name is tarnished, so he tries to ignore the situation for most of the book.
Gus and Michael are the only two parents that seem to be handling anything maturely at all. I don’t want to imply there’s a wrong way to react to this sort of situation, but the book obviously wants to set up James and Melanie as the antagonists of the story and Gus and Michael as sympathetic. They’re grief-stricken, but at least they’re trying to deal with the situation and discover what really happened.
I don’t want to say not much happens afterwards; it’s more like there’s not a lot of critical scenes. Chris’ lawyer interviews several characters. Melanie seems to slowly lose her sanity, even going to far as to destroying evidence that would suggest Chris wasn’t guilty. We see Chris get used to prison life. The two families run into each other several times and create more drama.
We also see several chapters focused on the past, highlighting moments from Chris and Emily’s childhood up until the night she died. We find out that as a kid, she was molested by a fast food employee when she went into the boys’ bathroom as a dare by Chris. This affected her willingness and enjoyment of sex with Chris after they started dating. Chris also pressured her into having sex before she was ready many times, resulting in even more stress for her. (As a side note, Chris himself is kind of an asshole in general. For someone that’s supposedly in love with Emily, he doesn’t even take her seriously when she tells him she wants to kill herself the first two times. I think he literally laughs the first time she tells him.) She felt stress from everyone, who expected her to be perfect, and she began to feel more and more worthless as time went on. When she finds out she’s pregnant, she starts developing her suicidal feelings.
Eventually, Chris’ court date approaches. I’m not a huge courtroom drama nut or anything, but I do love getting swept up in a good one. This was easily the best part of the book for me because of that. Anyway, the defense and prosecutor go back and forth for 100 pages or so and eventually Chris is pronounced not guilty. He goes back home, Emily’s parents move across town, and… that’s kind of it.
I wasn’t expecting a satisfying ending. The death of Emily, destroying both Chris and the two sets of parents’ lives, pretty much guaranteed that. The book’s main conflict unexpectedly focused on proving Chris’ innocence. But the problem with that is that he’s either guilty and spends the rest of his life in jail, or he’s innocent and… well, everything’s still tainted. There’s this half-assed “glimmer of hope for the future” thing to close out the book, but overall I thought the ending was pretty boring. At least the courtroom stuff was entertaining enough to make up for it.
Honestly, I hated the beginning of this book. Between trying to keep track of the parents (who didn’t have a lot going on personality-wise except for “parent”) and… I don’t know. Something else I can’t pinpoint? Between those things, the beginning really dragged for me. It took me almost a week to force myself through 50 pages.
But once I sat down and really started to dedicate time to it, I got more invested. Unfortunately, there’s a lot of melodramatic moments for most of the book; scenes will end in a way that feel like the end of an episode of an ABC Family drama, like their only purpose was to create temporary drama that ultimately had nothing to do with anything. For example, one of the prisoners is built up like he’s going to be a great obstacle for Chris to overcome in prison, but it doesn’t really go anywhere. The molestation scene I mentioned earlier is never brought up again, and I was really anticipating it to play more of a role in the story but unfortunately it ended up feeling like a shock value scene. Chris’ mother and Emily’s father start to form feelings for each other when they begin meeting in secret and sort of start an affair, but this too leads to nothing and I have to wonder what the point of anything was.
Ultimately, though, I think the most disappointing thing about The Pact is that it puts the subject matter of depression and suicide on the back burner while the drama with the parents takes up most of the book. I was actually pretty disgusted with the way the parents made this entire situation and book about themselves. Emily’s story would have been great if that’s all this book was. It could have really shown the trauma and effects feeling depressed and suicidal can leave a person. But the book was more about the parents and what they were going through rather than the suicidal daughter and how she felt. Which… I don’t know. Maybe if it was advertised more like that I wouldn’t be as disappointed, but I was really expecting this to be more about Chris and Emily.
The Pact wasn’t bad, but I honestly couldn’t really recommend it. The writing isn’t terrible, there’s just a lot of unnecessary scenes and pointless drama to not make it feel worth the time. If it was shorter I could maybe see it as a guilty pleasure of sorts, but at close to 400 pages I was expecting something more concrete.
Thanks for reading, and I hope you’re having a great week! 🙂
Info for my edition of The Pact:
Published 2002 by Harper Perennial
Paperback, 394 pages