The reliably prolific Jodi Picoult returns with Lone Wolf, an absorbing story about an unusual, fractured family. When Luke Warren and his daughter Cara get into a ghastly car wreck, Luke suffers such brain damage that no one knows if he’ll ever recover. The family, including Cara’s remarried mother, stepfather and estranged brother, gather to try and determine if the plug should be pulled or not.

The page-turning potential of such a story might be enough for other writers, but Picoult’s focus on her characters makes the story that much more compelling. The story’s second most compelling character is Cara, who, to be blunt, is a thoroughly dislikable brat. Still, as full of self-absorbed teenage angst as she is, the reader sympathizes with her. A child not only of divorce but of familial implosion, she’s the one who insists there’s still hope for her beloved father. Her older brother Edward, on the other hand, would like Luke to end his life with some kind of dignity. Edward parted abruptly, angrily, from their father, and Cara is sure he wants Luke dead out of spite. Edward and Cara’s mother Georgie is, like mothers are, torn between her warring older children as well as her obligations to her new, young family. She also feels some residual obligation to Luke, the man who, she can’t forget, swept her off her feet once upon a time.

If Cara is the second most compelling character, Luke is the first. A mountain of a man, he’s gained notoriety for his study and care of wolves; he even spent a couple years living with a pack. The chapters are narrated by different characters, and Luke’s insights into wolf society make his contributions the most intriguing. By the end, you understand Luke’s tragedy: He knew everything about living with wolves, and very little about living with humans.

Picoult keeps the reader’s emotions seesawing till the last page. Lone Wolf has much to say about families—both human and animal—and the love, resentment and desperation that come into play during one human family’s time of trouble.

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