February 23, 2008

Change of Heart

Change of Heart by Jodi Picoult
Contemporary Fiction
Finished on 2/20/08
Rating: 4.75/5 (Terrific!)
ARC (Book due out on March 4)

Book Description

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.

Lots of sticky notes!

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.


  1. Anonymous5:10 PM

    I have just recently read my very first Picoult book Nineteen Minutes and am looking forward to reading many more. I will have to put this on my TBR list when it comes out. I skimmed through your review (I hate knowing spoilers before I begin a book!) and it sounds very intriguing Thanks for a great review!

  2. Oh, Les, you are so brave to read and review this book. Again, you had me in tears. When I do read this book it will hold more than it would have before reading your post. Hugs to you.

    p.s. you need to buy some book darts.

  3. I haven't read all of Jodi Picoult's books, but I've enjoyed most of those I have read. I love how she can make me see and empathize with so many different sides of an issue. Knowing the horrifying loss your family suffered, I don't know that if I was in your position I would willingly pick this one up. That you did and recommend it makes me really want to read it. I'm working my way through Picoult's books in publication order, so it'll be a while, though. Thanks for the recommendation of what I'm sure was at times a difficult read.

  4. Anonymous9:08 PM

    Sweet Les, you know I believe that sometimes synchronicity happens. Jodi Picoult wrote this book at just the right time for you to read and gain insights and strength. I''m so glad that it was a help to you. Jodi Picoult would certainly be interested I would expect to know what her story meant to you.

    As always, my thoughts and prayers are with you, Rod and the rest of your family. Hugs, hugs, hugs.

  5. Anonymous11:56 AM

    Dear Lesley;

    This review was so poignant, so raw, so open that it moved me to tears. Jodi must have realized how much you needed this book to aid you. I am happy she was sensitive to your issues. I can't imagine your pain and if this book did anything to ease it in some way than it was worth her writing it. I am sure others will feel that way as well.

    My prayers are with you as you face this challenge; my heart is with you as well. Please know how much I care.


  6. I just have one question about this book -- I read My Sister's Keeper (which many people liked and I didn't) and this question stems from my experience with that book -- is the ending a cop out in any way?

  7. You are a brave one. I enjoyed your review and even if you weren't able to post more because of spoilers I really want to read it. Sending you and your family lots of good vibes and prayers for the upcoming court date.
    Oh and I love the pic of the post-its! I do that too :)

  8. You're right, I can't believe you read that particular book! But, the quotes are pretty amazing and really prove that nobody researches quite like Jodi Picoult. I'm glad you found it helpful; the idea that you might learn something about what to expect in the courtroom makes perfect sense.

  9. I've given up on Jodi Picoult but I can certainly understand how this one would be so meaningful for you and I'm glad for you that it was.
    I love all those sticky notes. I haven't used many lately. I guess no quotes have been jumping out at me these days.

  10. I agree Les, you are brave to read this book and give it a fair opinion. I don't know that I could have done that. I'm glad that it gave you some support and strength to take with you into what lies in store for you. I'll be thinking of you and your family (praying too!) as these difficult days get closer.

  11. I have been a fan for years. I have this on reserve at the library when it comes in. I admire your bravery and my thoughts will be with you and your family in the courtroom.

  12. Thank you all for the kind words and thoughts. They are greatly appreciated.

  13. Katya - Without revealing any spoilers, all I can say is no, I don't believe the ending was a cop-out in any way.

  14. Anonymous6:00 AM

    Lesley, you ARE brave for reading a book that must have torn you to pieces at times. Thank you for your beautiful comments - I'm humbled to think that I might have gotten you thinking about justice again -when you of all people have a right to endorse retribution in sentencing. I know that every time I started to think the death penalty was dead wrong while I researched, I'd go and talk to a parent who'd lost a child to a violent death and I would do a 180, too - this was the hardest book for me as a parent to take sides on, regarding an issue. Ultimately, all I know is that legally the system is wonky - what bugs me is that only some murders are eligible for the death penalty and that doesn't seem very just, as if it values some lives over others.

    Anyway, thanks again for reading it - and my heart goes out to you.

    Jodi Picoult

  15. Les, I was on the fence about reading this but not anymore. I've been to hear Picoult speak twice and think she's an amazing lady - but I was not as crazy about her last couple of books so was ready to give up. The book sounds amazing and as the others have said you are so brave to have read it. I agree with you the Picoult's research is outstanding, so I agree with your thinking that you'll have a small idea about what to expect. What a terrible thing for you and your family to go through. My heart is full for you.

  16. This sounds really good! Thanks for the review.

  17. Ah jeez. I just read a pretty rough review on this book on the NYT, and had decided not to add it to the pile, but you seemed to have liked it. My tbr list is threatening to drown me!

    Great review!

  18. raych - I think it's one of her best. Thanks for stopping by. You have a pretty name. Our daughter's name was Rachel and I always called her Rach.


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