February 23, 2008
Change of Heart
Change of Heart by Jodi Picoult
Finished on 2/20/08
Rating: 4.75/5 (Terrific!)
ARC (Book due out on March 4)
The acclaimed #1 New York Times bestselling author presents a spellbinding tale of a mother's tragic loss and one man's last chance at gaining salvation.
Can we save ourselves, or do we rely on others to do it? Is what we believe always the truth?
One moment June Nealon was happily looking forward to years full of laughter and adventure with her family, and the next, she was staring into a future that was as empty as her heart. Now her life is a waiting game. Waiting for time to heal her wounds, waiting for justice. In short, waiting for a miracle to happen.
For Shay Bourne, life holds no more surprises. The world has given him nothing, and he has nothing to offer the world. In a heartbeat, though, something happens that changes everything for him. Now, he has one last chance for salvation, and it lies with June's eleven-year-old daughter, Claire. But between Shay and Claire stretches an ocean of bitter regrets, past crimes, and the rage of a mother who has lost her child.
Would you give up your vengeance against someone you hate if it meant saving someone you love? Would you want your dreams to come true if it meant granting your enemy's dying wish?
Once again, Jodi Picoult mesmerizes and enthralls readers with this story of redemption, justice, and love.
From the author's website:
[Change of Heart] features a Death Row inmate who wants to donate his heart to the sister of his victim…which means petitioning the state for a less “humane” form of execution than lethal injection. When he starts performing miracles, the press labels him “Messiah." After all, people are always finding Jesus in prison… what if he were really there? And what if the things he said didn’t match what you’d been told your whole life…but instead, matched verbatim the text of an ancient gospel that was excluded from the Bible as heresy?
This is a difficult book for me to review. There is the obvious connection to the situation of my family's terrible loss. And as with most of Jodi Picoult's novels, it's almost impossible to discuss the plot without giving away spoilers. Here are some random thoughts and passages that will hopefully give you a sense of what Picoult has tried to achieve with Change of Heart.I really enjoy reading a book in which the point of view alternates between multiple characters and Picoult is a master when it comes to seamlessly weaving a story between the cast. In Change of Heart we hear from four characters:
June Nealon - mother of Elizabeth and Claire; two-time widow
Maggie - ACLU attorney; single; daughter of a rabbi; atheist
Michael - Catholic priest; spiritual advisor to Shay Bourne; rides a '69 Triumph Trophy motorcyle
Lucius - Shay Bourne's neighboring cell-mate; AIDS victim
My favorite character was Maggie. Her "story" provided witty humor to an otherwise depressing narrative. I would love to see more of her in another book by Picoult!
I love the way the author continued to surprise me, even when I was absolutely certain I knew what was going to happen. Again, Picoult is a master of twists and surprises. My jaw literally dropped at one point and I wound up flipping back through the previous pages, searching for a clue I might've missed.When I first heard the specifics about Change of Heart, my initial thought was that nobody would understand why I would want to read this, of all books! But having read several of the author's previous novels (understanding that she not only is a phenomenal writer who deftly researches her subject matter, but also presents it it with truth and accuracy), I knew that in less than two months, I would be able to walk into a Virginia Beach courtroom and have some idea of what would ensue. In a sense, I've relied on Picoult's research expertise to prepare myself for the unknown -- facing the person who killed my stepdaughter (and two other young adults) on Memorial Day Weekend almost three years ago.
Miscellaneous quotes that I marked:
"I wanted to play them the answering machine message that still had their voices on it, the one I couldn't bear to erase, even though it felt like I was being cut to ribbons every time I heard it." "I wanted them to live my life, because that was the only way they'd really know what had been lost."
"...lethal injection might not be as humane as everyone wanted to believe." [Ah, but neither is murder.]
"...a thirty-three-year-old carpenter with a death sentence on his head, who was performing miracles left and right."
"What I would like to tell Shay Bourne about the impact this crime had on my family is that it erased my family, period." "I would like him to come with me to the bank, the day I broke down in front of the teller and told her that I wanted to liquidate the college fund of Elizabeth Nealon." [or cash out savings bonds in the name of a deceased daughter...]
"If they had to die, I would have loved to have known in advance, so that I could take each second spent with them and know to hold on to it, instead of assuming there would be a million more. If they had to die, I would have loved to have been there, to be the last face they saw, instead of his."
"...he spoke, words that at the time felt as solid and square as bricks, layered sentence upon sentence to build a wall between life as I'd known it and the one I would now be forced to lead."
"Some people say that the reason we have a death penalty in this country is because we need to punish certain inmates. It's said to be a deterrent--but in fact, murder rates are higher in death penalty jurisdictions than in those without it. It's said to be cheaper to execute a man than keep him in prison for life--but in fact, when you factor in the cost of eleven years of appeals, paid for with public funds, it costs about a third more to execute a prisoner than to sentence him to life in prison. Some people say that the death penalty exists for the sake of the victims' family--that it offers closure, so that they can deal, finally and completely, with their grief. But does knowing that the death toll has risen above and beyond their family member really offer justice? And how do we explain the fact that a murder in a rural setting is more likely to lead to a death sentence than one that occurs in the city? Or that the murder of a white victim leads to the death penalty three and a half times more often than the murder of a black victim? Or that women are sentenced to death only two-thirds as often as men?"
After studying similar death penalty stats in a sociology course many years ago, I became a firm believer that life in prison (with no chance of parole) was the right course of action to punish the guilty. However, my opinion took a complete 180 on May 28, 2005 after our daughter was violently murdered. And now, after reading Change of Heart, I'm beginning to reconsider my stand once again. Picoult's books force you to examine your beliefs and opinions about society and the world at large. We all know that life is never simply black and white. There are no absolutes.
One thing I do know for certain -- I'm glad I'm not serving on a jury, faced with the decision of whether another individual lives or dies.