Second Glance Summary
by Jodi Picoult

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Second Glance

(Critical Survey of Contemporary Fiction)

Comtosook, Vermont, is beset by paranormal happenings, seemingly connected to the Redhook Group’s plans to build a strip mall on an old Abenaki Indian burial ground. An Abenaki group is camping near the property in protest, and the construction crew is hampered by apparently supernatural interference. Comtosook residents believe the land is haunted, perhaps by Cecilia Pike, a young woman who died on the property in 1932.

Redhook hires paranormal researcher Ross Wakeman to investigate. Ross has been trying to kill himself since his fiancée Aimee died; failing that, he wants to contact ghosts and know Aimee is somewhere waiting for him. Ross’s unraveling of the Comtosook mystery will involve his sister Shelby and her nine-year-old son, who has a genetic disorder and cannot tolerate sunlight; Meredith Oliver, a genetic biologist; Meredith’s eight-year-old daughter (who sees dead people); a local policeman who dreams of a woman he’s never met; and an Abenaki tribal elder named Az.

The haunting is real in Second Glance—rose petals fall from the sky like snow, the ground freezes solid in the middle of August, and coffee makers brew only lemonade. However, Jodi Picoult sets her ghost story in a genuine historical context: in the 1930’s Vermont legalized “voluntary” sterilization in families considered inherently feebleminded or otherwise burdensome to the social order. The Abenaki were among those targeted for extinction. Picoult’s fictional Comtosook resonates with shame and a conspiratorial silence surrounding the eugenicists, including Cecilia Pike’s still-living husband.

Second Glance is frightening and fanciful, tragic and comic, as Comtosook residents breathing and otherwise struggle with profound questions about death, life, love, suicide and biological perfection: Whose life is worth living, and who should decide?