Newest Review: ... sister of his victim. However, death by lethal injection does not allow for organ donation. Can Shay have his sentence changed to anothe... more
Change of Heart - Jodi Picoult
Member Name: lonestarsky
Change of Heart - Jodi Picoult
Advantages: Great story line, moral dilemmas, characters, writing style
Disadvantages: Could offend if you're religious
Jodi Picoult has an amazing talent. I'm not referring to her writing skills here (although she's exceptionally talented in that area too), but to her talent of creating the most horrendous moral dilemmas. I've read a few of her books and most of them revolve around dilemmas that we can only hope and pray that we never, ever come across. At face value some of them seem contrived and unrealistic. But here is where Ms Picoult's writing talent comes in - she makes the characters and situation so real that you can help feeling that this could really happen, and wondering "what would I do"?
Imagine the scenario - your husband and seven year old daughter are murdered by a carpenter that you trusted to work on your home. You are eight months pregnant at the time. The man responsible is tried, and subsequently given the death penalty - the first in the state for 69 years. Eleven years later your daughter - your only remaining family - is perilously close to death and desperately needs a heart transplant. At the same time the man responsible for killing the rest of your family is due to be killed by lethal injection. However before he dies he is looking for redemption - he wants to give your daughter his heart.
What would you do?
And here we have the basic premise of this novel. June Nealon is the mother who has to make the hardest decision of her life - lose her beloved daughter Claire, or save her by letting her take on the heart of the one person she despises most in the world, and who she never wants to be indebted to. And to make matters worse, Shay Bourne, the man responsible for killing her husband and daughter, has started to perform miracles in prison so is now being hailed by many as the Messiah. The man responsible for destroying her family is now viewed as a hero - does June really want to add to that status by letting him save her daughter? But heart donors don't come along every day so can she afford not to accept it?
As with may of Picoult's novels, this story is told from the points of view of various characters, all in first person. Firstly, we have June, who is essentially the victim. She lost her beloved husband and daughter yet has had to hold herself together for the sake of her remaining daughter, who was unborn at the time of their murders. Not surprisingly June adamantly refuses Shay's heart at first but as Claire deteriorates before her eyes, June's resolve begins to do the same.
Then we have Father Michael, a priest who becomes Shay's Spiritual Advisor. Michael's beliefs are challenged as he struggles with the fact that Shay might really be the Messiah, and when he starts to see the good in him. However Michael also harbours a deep secret from his past that could shatter his relationship with Shay, and he wrestles with his conscience as he debates whether to confess to Shay or not.
Next is Maggie, a young woman who becomes Shay's legal representative. Maggie is determined to find a way for Shay to be executed that does not involve lethal injection, so that he can donate his heart. But as she spends more time with him, she becomes more aware of the fact that regardless of the outcome, Shay is going to die. Maggie is not a religious person and finds herself somewhat hypocritical to be using the law to fight for someone's religious beliefs. Like Michael, the more she learns about Shay, the more she begins to question her religious beliefs.
Finally we have Lucius, who occupies the cell next door to Shay in the notorious I-Tier. Although not on death row, Lucius has AIDS, so is living out a life sentence of his own. We view Shay first hand through the cynical eyes of Lucius, who witnesses Shay's supposed miracles first hand. Is there a logical explanation for each occurrence, or is Shay really the Messiah?
I found the technique of using different narrators very appropriate to the story. We begin to see Shay through the eyes of those who get to know him best and, like them, we begin to develop an empathy for him. However Picoult then throws in a chapter from June's point of view and we are reminded that two people lost their lives because of him. This leads to an interesting mix of emotions that really makes you think. All characters are struggling with varying moral dilemmas and issues in their lives, yet Shay manages to have a profound effect on each of them, in very different ways.
Having Father Michael as a narrator helps with the religious slant, as does the fact that Maggie's father is a Rabbi. Although not a religious person, I loved this part of the story as it throws up so many questions and really made me think. Shay is an intriguing and interesting character and I felt a mixture of emotions towards him. To start with, I despised him for what he had done but the more I learned about him, I was surprised to find that I really felt for him. Picoult has painted him as so real and so human that it's impossible not to feel for him.
The ending of the book is fitting and like the rest of the book, leaves you wondering just who Shay Bourne really was. I won't say whether or not he gets to donate his heart to Claire but it is clear that he has left a lasting effect on her life, not just because he killed her father and sister.
Overall I found this an interesting and engaging book that raised many issues about faith, life, death and right and wrong. I found myself thinking about it for a couple of days afterwards as I almost felt that it was real. I view this as one of Picoult's best and if you like any of her other work I would highly recommend this one.