With so many accomplishments and a catalog of work from which to choose, you may wonder which books are Jodi Picoult’s best—and in what order should they be read? Now, updated for 2021, we’re revisiting the ones with the most fanfare and a few that are controversial.
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Besides her general writing technique, fans of Picoult are genuinely impressed by her ability to weave a tale around surprising connections of sometimes seemingly disconnected characters. Many also appreciate the abundance of research that goes into each one of her books.
Do You Have to Read Jodi Picoult Books in Order?
Outlined below is the best order to read Jodi Picoult’s books, in this author’s opinion. Reading them in this order will help you understand the author’s journey.
That said, you can read Jodi Picoult’s books in any order. Many of the books are standalone novels, only a few are part of a series. Sometimes the best book to start with, is whichever one speaks to you most.
Top Jodi Picoult Books (Read In This Order)
Start with her latest and oldest novels to understand the author’s bookends, if you will. Then, read her Between the Lines series. Next, read the ones adapted for the screen. Finally, take a chronological journey through the best of her standalone books.
1. The Book of Two Ways (2020)
In Jodi Picoult’s most recent novel, the protagonist is a plane crash survivor who confronts the what-ifs in her life. Wrestling with the road not taken and the one she’s been on is one of those everyday struggles people find later in life, and not generally from the near-death perspective.
Fans of Piccoult are accustomed to books about grief. Jodi often covers sensitive topics like death, abortion, the death penalty, coping with the death of an adult child, and more in her stories. What’s disarming for some long-time fans of Picoult about The Book of Two Ways is her extensive research into Egyptology. But that research makes an interesting parallel of getting sucked away into something chaotic only to find the truth.
2. Songs of the Humpback Whale (1992)
Songs of the Humpback Whale is Picoult’s first novel and why you started with her most recent publication. But that’s the glory in authorship. With each book, writers learn how to make characters more likable or set up better scenes. They also get feedback from readers, seeing what works for the audience and what doesn't.
Still, a few things are touch and go in this novel, especially the lack of substance or character arcs and, of course, the statutory rape storyline. That said, if you want to understand the breadth of this author’s journey, give the novel a chance.
3. Between the Lines (2012)
Jodi teamed up with her daughter to write this YA series. In the first book, Between the Lines, teen protagonist and loner Delilah spends much of her time in the school library.
Something about the main character in her latest find consumes her. He’s both courageous and loving, traits she greatly admires. Then one day, he speaks to her from the pages, and her life completely changes. Here’s a teaser:
“I think that when you live in a world with limits... when you've met everyone and seen everything you're going to see - you lose the hope that something extraordinary will happen in your life.”
4. Off the Page (2015)
The companion piece to Between the Lines develops both Deliah and Oliver, her storied lover. You don't need to read them in tandem, as they work well on their own, but there's so much that you get out of this extra novel.
Off the Page allows the reader to marvel at the world created by Picoult. It also ties up many loose ends from the first book, giving you the best ending.
5. Shine (2016)
Shine is the first book of two in the Ruth Jefferson series. In it, Ruth is the scholarship kid from Harlem who’s smart enough to be accepted into Dalton—a school with prestige. The book is full of tough topics like race, socioeconomics, exclusion, and feeling like the outcast. It covers trust, bullying, and more.
Unfortunately, it’s also short, but it’ll whet your appetite for the second in the series.
6. Small Great Things (2016)
The hardest thing for an author is writing from an experience that isn’t familiar. In this case, it happens to be about Ruth Jefferson, a nurse who experiences the back end of privilege and racism while at work. Fans of Picoult cheer her for tackling tough subjects, but not everyone feels that way.
Apart from an implausible premise, Small Great Things takes a turn for some readers in the BIPOC community because it feels like Picoult is explaining how not to be racist to the white readership. Even though Picoult nails a few blending or survival habits, the stereotypes found in the court scene are unsettling for some readers.
7. The Pact (1998)
The Pact became a Lifetime movie in 2002 and involves sex, suicide, and courtroom drama. To be honest, Picoult presents another implausible situation where Emily makes a pact with her boyfriend to help her commit suicide.
Many readers won’t be able to wrap their heads around the courtroom scene or why Emily would place her boyfriend in such an awful situation. But Picoult has a way of weaving stories that’ll make sense in the end. You might just have to wring your hands to get there.
8. Plain Truth (2001)
In Plain Truth, a novel and television-adapted movie, Picoult challenges another implausible situation. This time it’s about the death of a newborn child (read that as murder). Given the Amish values of religion and community, some of it is entirely out of character.
Still, Picoult is the master weaver of events, and this time, she brings in a defense attorney from Philadelphia. Attorney Ellie Hathaway takes on the case to defend Katie Fisher, the baby’s mother. And it’s her story intertwined with that of Katie’s that makes the novel well worth reading.
9. Salem Falls (2001)
Intrigue and accusations follow Jack St. Bride to Salem Falls, a sleepy little town in New England. There he meets Addie Peabody, who owns the local greasy spoon. He’s just been released from prison for a crime he says he didn’t commit. And now he’s looking to move on but keep it a secret. Here’s a taste:
“A very wise man once told me that you can't look back-you just have to put the past behind you, and find something better in your future.”
10. My Sister’s Keeper (2004)
Picoult’s My Sister’s Keeper was made into a movie starring Cameron Diaz and forces some challenging conversations about cancer, pain, suffering, and helping a teenager move through grief. And that’s just one dilemma facing the household.
As usual, the writing is excellent. Most agree that Picoult is a master at perspectives and stories by now. But there’s one big issue with the ending that may leave you haunted by the writer’s choice to avoid a solemn topic. Instead, she took the easy way out—problematic for some.
11. The Tenth Circle (2006)
In another made-for-television movie, The Tenth Circle tackles some incredibly adult topics. There’s a perfect little family at the heart of the story—mom, dad, and daughter. Each one is a unique character, with so much to unpack. Yet, it’s the story of Trixie, the daughter, that matters most.
After a shocking incident, her father’s past becomes pivotal to the twists. With that comes the struggle both parents faced years ago and the truths about their marriage today, all intertwined around a mysterious death.
12. Perfect Match (2002)
The heart of Perfect Match is centered around the sexual abuse of a child. The mother, Nina Frost, has made a career out of prosecuting sexual offenders, so she’s destroyed when the trauma finds itself in her home, too.
There’s also a similar storyline or recipe to this story that matches her others, making the end easy to guess. However, here in this legal thriller, Nina and her family must battle with a flawed legal system and the aftermath of the assault on her 5-year-old son.
13. Second Glance (2003)
Second Glance will fulfill that supernatural craving for which you’re looking while giving you pause about Vermont’s eugenics program back in the early 20th century. With that as a backdrop, Picoult’s tale unfolds with another questionable storyline.
Plausibility aside, the story is ripe with character studies, scientific research, history, and a chance to escape reality for a few hours and read something well-written. As usual, Picoult puts so many twists and turns into the novel that the intrigue is hard to escape.
14. Nineteen Minutes (2007)
You will be asking yourself all of the w’s throughout this Nineteen Minutes. Who? What? Why did this have to happen? But in reality, bullying is an often overlooked crime running rampant through schools across the country. Worse, the victim of bullying can turn into the perpetrator without help from adults and other mental support.
Unfortunately, this story is an all too often tale with timeliness that just doesn’t seem to end no matter the generation or school.
15. Handle With Care (2009)
Osteogenesis imperfecta is a condition where your bones are brittle. Breaks, surgeries, plates, and screws are part of everyday life. It’s not only a devastating diagnosis for kids, but parents also bear a kind of endless guilt too.
Again, the research shines through as Picoult details the lives of the O’Keefe family and how parents Charlotte and Sean ask the difficult questions about what makes a life worth living in Handle With Care.
At birth, their daughter Willow already has seven broken bones. And she’ll continue to live a life filled with pain. But it’s the lawsuit that her parents file against the small-town doctor, a family friend, that rocks the family, friendships, and the town.
16. House Rules (2010)
In House Rules, Jodi Picoult tackles the topic of Asperger’s syndrome. People with Aspergers will tell you that not all people are diagnosed with all of the symptoms, let alone extreme ones. Unfortunately for Jacob Hunt, he’s afflicted with them all.
Apart from being problematic for the Aspergers community, Picoult’s portrayal of Asperger’s syndrome does reach many readers. Of course, choosing to omit truths in exchange for a storyline is troubling, primarily since Jacob can’t lie when he’s asked questions. But that would have ended the murder intrigue and upended a chance to discuss intolerance and struggle.
Jodi Picoult’s Catalog of Work
Jodi Picoult’s novels have been translated into thirty-four languages and made into five movies. She’s received numerous literary awards, has spoken at Princeton’s graduation ceremony, holds honorary degrees, and is one of the board members for VIDA: Women in Literary Arts. And she’s not close to being done with writing, so stay tuned for more updates on her work and accolades.