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Change of Heart - Jodi Picoult
Member Name: blonde_girl774
Change of Heart - Jodi Picoult
Advantages: Diverse Characters & Gripping Plot.
If I had to select one person as my favourite author then I'd say it would currently be a close call between Philippa Gregory and Jodi Picoult. Although their books are far from similar in terms of content, Gregory tends to write historical novels from around the era of Henry VIII while Picoult prefers more modern novels, they both write equally addictive and enjoyable novels. I've just finished Jodi Picoult's latest offering which was entitled Change of Heart and I was far from disappointed by it!
Jodi Picoult is an American author who has had fifteen books published to date; Change of Heart is her most recent offering although her sixteenth novel will be released in April 2009. Her books all share several common themes in that they focus on family, heartbreak and some sort of court drama as well which is often the result of a morally questionable crime. Her first novel was published back in 1992 and she shows no signs of stopping writing anytime soon, thank goodness!
The novel focuses on Shay Bourne who is the first death row prisoner in the state of New Hampshire for sixty nine years. He has been imprisoned for the past eleven years following a court case where he was found guilty of murdering Kurt Nealon, a local police man, and Elizabeth Nealon, his young step daughter after sexually assaulting her. He is soon to be executed within a matter of weeks yet he has one last request, to donate his heart to a dying girl, the daughter of Kurt Nealon and the half sister of Elizabeth Nealon.
Bourne feels this is the only way to redeem his sins on earth but with the chosen execution method, lethal injection, this would be impossible. Maggie, an ACLU lawyer decides to try to help Shay by going to court and saying that he should be allowed to die in line with his religious beliefs which involve being able to donate his organs. The two major topics facing Shay are not only to convince a court to allow him to die by hanging him, but also to convince June Nealon to accept the heart for her dying daughter Claire.
Michael, a young priest who also had the misfortune of acting on Shay's murder trial, is given the job of being his spiritual advisor during his last weeks in prison. When Shay is transported to the prison where he will be hung, just weeks before his execution is scheduled to take place, he begins to perform what can only be described as miracles, something that makes Michael question everything he has ever believed in and results in half the population still hating him and half thinking he is some sort of messiah.
The story is told from the viewpoint of four characters which makes each chapter different in a sense and allows us to see more than we would normally if it were told from the viewpoint of only one character. First we have June Nealon who was Kurt Nealon's wife and Elizabeth Nealon's mother before she welcomed Shay into her house as a workman and he stole them away from her. She is currently caring for her daughter, Claire Nealon, who has a damaging heart condition meaning that she will die without a transplant.
Michael is a young man who has chosen to enter the priesthood following his days as a student. We first meet him when he was serving on the jury given the job of determining the sentence on Shay Bourne following his crimes. Eleven years later he has completed his studies and is a priest at a local church, he takes up the position of Shay Bourne's spiritual advisor out of some need to redeem himself for finding Shay guilty all those years ago. Shay makes him question everything he believes in when the miracles start to occur.
Lucius is another prisoner on I tier which is where Shay is taken before his execution. Lucius was imprisoned for killing his gay lover when he found out he was having an affair and is suffering from Aids. When Shay is placed in the cell next to Lucius a friendship of sorts starts between the two men. Lucius seems to believe in the miracles Shay is performing and indeed when he appears cured from his illnesses he believes this is due to Shay's powers. He offers an insight into prison life which is fascinating to read about too.
Maggie is an attorney working for the ACLU and desperately battling against the death penalty and all the things it stands for. She comes across Shay's case and decides to investigate it further in case it can be of use to her cause. She sets herself the task of convincing a judge that Shay should be allowed to die in the way he wants so he can donate his organs, in line with his religious beliefs. She is a somewhat lonely woman who has a very negative body image and feels she has never lived up to her mother's hopes.
I was so excited when I came across this book in Tesco on a special promotion of two for £7 and couldn't wait to read it after buying it. I was far from disappointed and although I want to say this is her best novel to date I can't quite bring myself to say it as the majority of those that I've read have been amazing. This book was truly emotive, I felt anger, I felt empathy, I felt sympathy and I even cried in one bit. Now very few books have the ability to make me cry making me think this really is something special.
The novel is just over four hundred and fifty pages in length which may seem long but in reality I found myself reading around fifty pages a night. The majority of the novel takes place within a matter of weeks and the pace of the book is kept quite quickly, some events will be discussed in detail from a number of perspectives while on other occasions a few days seem to pass without mention. Not at any point did I think the book was too long or contemplate giving up in it, it was utterly addictive throughout.
I really like the way that Picoult uses a number of narrators in her novels. This really gives an added depth as the same event or occurrences can be described from a number of different perspectives, making the reader feel even more involved with what is going on. I did wish at times that one of the narrators was Shay Bourne himself rather than the four people surrounding him, but I suppose there would have been very little need for any other narrator and it may have revealed too much from his perspective.
The characters really had a chance to develop and evolve throughout the novel and they come to reveal and understand things about themselves that they probably wouldn't have done without meeting Shay Bourne himself. They allow the reader an insight into their opinions and views, as well as their inner soul and thoughts. June Nealon probably goes on the most complicated and trying journey of them all, her strength is remarkable throughout the novel and the sympathy I felt for her was real.
The subject content as always was quite controversial; a convicted murderer wants to be executed to allow him to donate his organs. Even more controversial, he wants to donate them to the family of his victims. There's no straight cut right or wrong decision to be made here and I'm not going to spoil it by telling you which way the decision goes, suffice to say that there is a debate which you can really get your teeth into. It's clear that it's a critical topic and one that is very often brushed under the carpet.
Shay Bourne, the focus of the entire story, is a very interesting character and one that I just couldn't quite make my mind up throughout. He is depicted at the start as a young man who has a difficulty in grasping language and putting together simple sentences. I wanted to hate him from the start, when I read of the crimes he'd committed and how he'd been found guilty my initial reaction was hatred. Yet this book made me realise that it's not always that black and white, by the end I found myself empathising with him.
I did feel a strange ability to relate to all the characters despite some of them being completly different to anyone I've ever met before. Shay Bourne in particular who was found guilty of murdering a child and a man was someone I thought I'd hate throughout the novel. However I actually felt myself feeling sorry for him at times, it's remarkable how you can assume what someone is going to be like from the picture painted of them by someone else, yet when he was actually the narrotor in the novel he was completly different to what I expected.
The only negative point I'd like to make is that religion was discussed and questioned throughout this novel. Now the religious parts at times were quite detailed and did go over a little over my head, it wasn't that they were boring as such but more that I didn't really have any interest in them. I think the idea of religion was vital to the story as Maggie was trying to prove that it was against Shay's religious beliefs to be executed by lethal injection, yet I'm not sure whether the large amount of religious talk was necessary.
Picoult has once again created a very powerful and moving book that had me hooked from the very first chapter and will no doubt replay on my mind during the coming weeks and months. It looked at a really controversial issue in the death penalty and although it remained objective about it, there were times when it did lead me to question my views towards it. This book had me addicted and if I could have I'd probably have read it all in just one or two sittings, it was that impossible to put down!
Thanks for reading.
Summary: A novel from Jodi Picoult.