Change of Heart by Jodi Picoult

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Change of Heart by Jodi Picoult

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Category: General Fiction
Rating: 4.5/5
Reviewer: Jo Heffer
Reviewed by Jo Heffer
Summary: This latest Jodi Picoult book is an emotional rollercoaster that deals with the death penalty in America and one death row inmate's desire to make amends. Chay Bourne is a convicted killer and is soon to be executed, but when he is, he wants to donate his heart - to his victim's sister!
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 464 Date: April 2008
Publisher: Hodder & Stoughton Ltd
ISBN: 978-0340935811

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From the very first page I was absorbed in Jodi Picoult's latest novel Change of Heart. It tells the story of Shay Bourne, who was convicted of the double murder of a police officer and his step daughter eleven years ago. He was sentenced to die by lethal injection and now that all appeals are used up and his death is imminent, he wants to be able to do one final thing in order to make some sense of his life. The wife and mother of the victims is June Nealon, and if she had not already witnessed enough tragedy in her life, her younger daughter Claire is seriously ill and will die unless a heart transplant takes place. Shay hears of her plight whilst watching a local news programme and offers his heart to Claire. This gesture provides the very clever title Change of Heart which in this case has more than one meaning.

The book then follows what happens as a consequence of this offer and is told through the eyes of four people. June Nealon is adamant at first that she will not accept the heart of the man who killed her husband and daughter, but as she watches Claire slowly deteriorate, she wonders what choice she might have. Michael, a young catholic priest, becomes Shay's spiritual adviser, even though he harbours a secret from his past that will very likely shake Shay to the core. The more he gets to know Shay, the more he wonders about the guilt of such a strange and unique man, particularly when it appears that Shay is able to perform miracles. Maggie is the woman who becomes Shay's legal representative and has to attempt to turn around Shay's sentence so that he will still be executed but in a way that will allow him to donate his heart. The more she becomes involved with Shay's case, the more she too is able to see the good in the man. Finally there is Lucius, Shay's next door cell mate who listens to and observes many small and wonderful acts from this convicted killer. All four are deeply affected by Shay Bourne but in very different ways.

Each chapter is told by a different character and is headed by that character's name. However, as they all write in the first person, it does sometimes become a little confusing and there were times when I had to refer back to make sure I knew who was telling the story. At first this was a bit irritating, but the more I became involved in the story, the less it bothered me. In fact, by the end, I enjoyed all these different storytellers, and you do get more of a sense of their emotions when it sounds like the words are coming straight from them.

I found Change of Heart to be a very powerful, involving story. Because the characters were all very strong, I found myself concerned about what happened to them and felt for them very much. They all had their own difficulties to overcome, for example Maggie is obsessed with her size and the way she thinks that others see her and Michael is forced to assess his faith in a new light. Towards the end of the novel, particularly during some highly charged court scenes, I just did not want to put it down and felt myself being tugged towards its very dramatic and emotional climax. It is not a light novel though and some of the subject matter is quite challenging. There is a lot of discussion about the rights and wrongs of the death penalty and quite a few graphic descriptions of how death will occur which does not make easy reading. There are also a lot of religious references particularly to do with the gnostic gospels which I had never heard of. In many ways this novel is similar to another of her novels, Keeping Faith as both books focus on a character whom others wonder may be the Messiah risen again. In fact some of the characters from that novel also appear in that one. Because of this aspect of the book I would wonder whether someone with a deep faith might be slightly offended when reading this. There are also the moral issues of the rights of every American citizen - even one on Death Row!

Overall, I thoroughly recommend Change of Heart as a wonderfully absorbing read. You could not describe it as enjoyble but it will tug at your heart strings from the very start and by the end you may well feel emotionally drained. It's a novel that will make you think and will also challenge what you think. And although this is only fiction, Jodi Picoult deals with some very real issues in an intense and moving way. This was a book which I did not want to put down and although I was deeply moved by the ending I was also very disappointed but only because it was over!

I'd like to thank the publishers for sending a copy to The Bookbag. For something different from Picoult you might like to try The Storyteller.

If Change of Heart appeals to you, you may also enjoy Plea of Insanity by Jilliane Hoffman.

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Buy Change of Heart by Jodi Picoult at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy Change of Heart by Jodi Picoult at


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