Summer Reading for Frosh

August 1, 2006
My Sister's Keeper, by Jodi Picoult

This year, all incoming first-year students will read My Sister's Keeper, the story of a teenager who was genetically engineered to be a bone-marrow donor for her older sister, who has leukemia.

Students in the Class of 2010 will receive a copy of the book this summer and are expected to read it before orientation in August, when they will discuss it in small groups. Ryan Lombardi, assistant dean of students and chairman of the summer reading selection committee, says that the novel, written by Jodi Picoult, was chosen because it is likely to spark discussions among students about medical ethics, parental decision-making, and issues of privacy and family responsibility.

"It really supports what we're trying to do with this program, which is to stimulate discussion among students," he says. "The book is very rich."

In the novel, the main character, Anna Fitzgerald, is conceived as a genetically perfect match to keep her older, ill sister, Kate, alive. When Kate needs a kidney transplant, Anna, now thirteen, begins to question her role in the family and sues her parents for the medical rights to her own body. The book explores the relationships among the family members, including Anna's mother, who gave up a law practice to be a stay-at-home mom; her father, who wavers between choosing sides; and her troubled and ignored older brother.

Now in its fifth year, Duke's summer reading assignment is aimed at providing an early taste of the university's intellectual climate and at fostering a sense of community among incoming students. Last year, first-year students read The Kite Runner, a fictional story of a young Afghan boy who is raised by his father in Kabul until they flee Afghanistan and end up in California.

A twelve-member committee comprising students and faculty and staff members began meeting in October and considered seventy nominations. For the first time, the committee used results from an online survey in making their decision, Lombardi says. The other finalists were The Namesake by Jhumpa Lahiri, The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down by Anne Fadiman, and King Leopold's Ghost by Adam Hochschild.