If you like THE PACT, you’ll also like SALEM FALLS and NINETEEN MINUTES

About the book

Your son says they both meant to die.
But he lived.

The Hartes and the Golds have lived next door to each other for eighteen years. They have shared everything from family picnics to chicken pox – so it's no surprise that in high school Chris and Emily's friendship blossoms into something more.

When the midnight calls come in from the hospital, no one is prepared: Emily is dead at seventeen from a gunshot wound to the head, inflicted by Chris as part of an apparent suicide pact. He tells the police the next bullet was meant for himself. A local detective has her doubts. And the Hartes and Golds must face every parent's worst nightmare and question: do we ever really know our children at all?

Overcome by anger and desperate for vengeance, Nina ignites a battle that may cause her to lose the very thing she's fighting for.

Back to top

A conversation with Jodi Picoult

The inspiration:

In my previous life, before I was a novelist, I was an English teacher. The year I was teaching eighth grade, I was 25 years old – the youngest teacher by far in the school. I had a hundred kids…and one little girl was suicidal. We all knew – her parents, her guidance counselor, and her four subject teachers. It was decided that all of us would work hard to keep her focused, and present. My job, as the English teacher, was to get her to write in a journal and to meet with her daily after school to talk about what she'd written.

I got pregnant that year, and left teaching to have my first son, Kyle. My husband and I moved out of state; and my first novel was published. I embarked on a new career…but I never forgot about that student. I never forgot what it felt like to be someone else's lifeline…even if there were other people who were towing that line of responsibility beside me. And I knew, when I started to write my fifth book, that my subject matter was going to involve teen suicide.

I wanted to write the anti-Romeo and Juliet story: the families that are too close, insteady of enemies - and that still wind up hurting their star-crossed children as a result. When I started to conceive of the book, Emily was the one who was going to be left behind after an aborted suicide pact…and this was going to be a character study novel, one that looked at survivor's guilt. My first research stop was to my local police department, where the chief looked at me and said, "OK, remind me…who's the one who's still alive? The boy or the girl?

"The girl," I said.

He shrugged. "Huh. Because, you know, if it was the guy…and he was bigger and stronger…we'd probably book him on charges of murder until we could prove otherwise."

I just stared at him. What if, I wondered, Chris was the one who was alive at the start of the book, instead of Emily? What if he lied to you at the beginning of the book…so that you didn't really know whether he was telling you the truth about anything that had happened that night? Suddenly I no longer had a character study on my hands…I had a page turner.

I hear very often from people who have to put THE PACT down because the ages of their children are too close to the ages of the kids in the novel – and I always say that's all right, that you'll be able to come back to it a year or two later. I also hear from parents who say that they've used the book as a springboard for talking about teen depression and suicide with their kids…a touchy subject they didn't really know how to approach. But I think the comments I'm most touched by come from teenagers who read this book – and there are huge battalions of them. They say that Chris and Emily are real teenagers, not the phony ones who usually inhabit adult novels. They say that they've had a love like Chris and Emily did, or a heartache. And a few have written to say that, like Emily, they've thought about suicide…but after reading THE PACT, they don't want it to come to that…and so they're going to tell someone how they're feeling.

When you write fiction, you don't ever really expect to change someone's real life. To know that THE PACT has done just that – maybe even saved a couple – is really humbling.

I don't know whatever happened to the eighth grade girl I taught so long ago. I've heard, from other teachers, that she did graduate from the school system and go off to college. I don't know if she still struggles with depression. But I hope it would make her happy to know that she is the one who planted the seed in my mind that grew into this garden, and maybe even indirectly was the reason another teenager years later took the time to stop and smell the flowers.

The research:

THE PACT marked a shift in my career in many ways. Not only was it the book that put me on the literary map as a writer – it also was the first one that made me fall in love with research. Since writing it, every novel I've tackled has started with hands-on research, experiences that have taken me from courtrooms to prisons, from Amish homes to Eskimo villages to haunted homes.

I think I became a research stickler because I am a careful reader. No one likes to catch a mistake in a book – it makes you feel like the author hasn't done his or her homework, and I've always been a straight-A student…so when I began to write THE PACT, I realized I was going to have to go explore bits of the world that I hadn't yet lived myself.

My first foray into research took place in my own home. Sadly, I was no longer a teenager (as painful as that is to admit). However, I had a great group of babysitters who came regularly to take care of my three children. I asked one of them - a spirited, smart 16 year old – if she'd feel comfortable gathering a group of friends and talking to me about what it was really like, now, to be her age. If they promised to be honest and frank, I promised all the Pepsi and pizza they could consume…and I also promised that what I heard wouldn't leave that room.

Well, I asked the hard questions: How old were you when you first had sex? Why did you do it? Have you ever been depressed? Wanted to kill yourself? Would you tell an adult? Why or why not? Have you used drugs? How old were you? How many phone calls would it take for you to get a gun?

That night when I went up to bed, my husband asked me what I'd learned. I told him…and he got really quiet. "So," he said. "She's never babysitting for us again, right?" Actually, she did – often. She went off to college and became just as brilliant a young woman as I'd expected all along…and I never forgot her generosity and her honesty that night, which in my opinion, is why Em and Chris seem so true-to-life.

My next stop for research was jail. I went to the Grafton County Correctional Facility, a minimum security jail that Chris would have been detained in, had he been awaiting trial. I remember thinking it was a human zoo – the only real rights that the prisoners have is deciding whether or not to come look at you as you pass by. I remember it was very warm, and most prisoners wore only their underwear. And I remember meeting one-on-one with inmates, who told me the details that became integral to Chris's jail experience: how to make a jail tattoo, how to get a spark out of a socket with a lead pencil; how to dry banana peels and roll them up in the pages of the Bible to make a fake cigarette. The remarkable thing about our justice system is that even if Chris were completely innocent, while awaiting trial (if denied bail) he might still wind up bunking with an axe-murderer. I wanted to explore how a normal, everyday kid might be changed by that sort of experience.

Finally, I spent a great deal of time in court, and talking to defense attorneys. There are two kinds – the ones who can explain a client's guilt away by dint of his difficult childhood; and the ones who really don't care whether or not their client is guilty, since they've simply got a job to do. It was the latter attorney that really intrigued me – that hard shell put up against any emotional connection to the client – and that ultimately became the template for Jordan McAfee. One of my favorite little tidbits of legal information actually changed the course of the book. In America, I would never be asked to testify against my husband, if he were charged with a crime. However, I WOULD be called to testify against my kids. I don't know about you…but I'd be far more willing to lock away my husband than any of my children! It was this odd loophole that made me want to write a scene in which a mom (Gus) is forced to either incriminate her child…or to lie on the witness stand.

Back to top

Book club discussion questions

  1. How do you feel the extended family environment created by the Hartes and the Golds affected their children? Did it contribute to Emily's suicide?
  2. Is there such a thing as being too close to another non-blood relative family?
  3. How do you feel Chris handled his guilt? Can he justify helping Emily commit suicide?
  4. How did the marital relationships of the Golds and the Hartes contribute to Gus's and Michael's temptations?
  5. Is Emily correct in beliving she had no other alternatives to suicide? Explain.
  6. Is Melanie justified in her feelings and actions toward the Hartes following Emily's death? What might justify her behavior?
  7. On page 35 is the following statement: "Chris and Emily had grown up with love, with wealth, and with each other. What more could they have needed?"Comment.
  8. In what ways does jail change Chris? In what ways does he benefit from the experience, and in what ways does it hurt him?
  9. Consider the personalities of the Hartes and the Golds. Do opposites attract? Does it make for the best communication in a marriage? How do the events of the book support or deny this thesis?
  10. Where do you see these characters in five years?
  11. Is the punishment meted out to Chris just? In your opinion, is Chris guilty of murder?
  12. Which character in the book is the most adaptable? The least adaptable? Why?
  13. Do you think Chris's trial will affect Jordan's view of the justice system? Explain.
  14. What is the significance of the "blank"piece of paper that Chris finds in the tin can at the end of the book?
  15. The title refers to THE PACT between Emily and Chris. Are there other pacts? And what about the subtitle ("A Love Story")?

Back to top


'A love story, thriller and family drama in one, THE PACT is the perfect novel to take on holiday this summer. You will find this novel impossible to put down - and if you take it on holiday with you, just don't plan on doing any sightseeing until you've finished it!'
Daily Mail

'The novelist displays an almost uncanny ability to enter the skins of her troubled young protagonists'
New York Times

'Picoult is a writer of high energy and conviction, who has, in [THE PACT], brought to life a cast of subtly drawn characters caught up in a tragedy as timeless and resonant as those of the Greeks or Shakespeare . . . She forges a finely honed, commanding, and cathartic drama'

'Engrossing . . . Picoult has a remarkable ability to make us share her characters' feelings of confusion and horror . . . THE PACT is compelling reading'

'Picoult has become a master . . . It is impossible not to be held spellbound by the way she forces us to think, hard, about right and wrong'
Washington Post

'Picoult's characters are so compelling that the reader hopes this won't be the last time we meet'
USA Today

Back to top

Buy the book

 Play.com LogoWaterstones Logo
Amazon LogoWHSmith LogoTesco Logo

Back to top