Jodi Picoult is quite unlike any author I’ve ever read. Mostly I get irritated with best-selling authors due to their formulaic plots and cardboard characters. Picoult, however, manages to create new and interesting stories that keep me enthralled from start to finish. Change of Heart was not my favorite of the novels I’ve read (it was nowhere near as breathtaking as The Tenth Circle, which had me dizzy with amazement by the end), but it is still a novel worth your time.
It tells the story of Shay Bourne, a convicted double-murderer, who somehow does not seem to belong with the other inmates on his cell block. Told in typical Picoult fashion, there are four different narrators, none of which is Bourne himself. Each character has his or her own feelings about Bourne, and are affected by him in remarkably different ways. In a short summary, Bourne wishes to donate his heart to the sister of a little girl he was convicted of murdering, and the ensuing story details the emotional and legal battles to have him executed by hanging rather than by lethal injection. I hardly have to mention how difficult it is to read something like this. Even as a fictional account, the emotional toll of such a tender yet fiercely-battled subject is high, and it is sometimes a struggle to read the novel. But for all that, Picoult captures her readers with her sometimes-witty/sometimes-serious narrators and her deeply moving, life-altering events. From grand courtroom battles between lawyers to gentle bedside moments between mother and ailing daughter, Picoult encourages her readers to contemplate the value of both the large and small goings-on in our own lives.
Shay Bourne is a riveting character, unlike nearly any that I’ve encountered in literature before. In some instances the novel reminds one of The Green Mile, for Shay Bourne is another man who performs miracles from his prison cell, much to the surprise and delight of his fellow inmates and the consternation of his prison guards. From the very beginning, the reader understands that Bourne is unique and that he will not be easily confined to any one label or box. It is also difficult to write him off as an evil man, in spite of his alleged crimes. As the novel progresses, Picoult requires her readers to suspend their disbelief and skepticism for a time. Miracles in the modern age are difficult for most to put their faith in, and this novel being written in such a realistic style (the characters could be walking and talking about in the present), the requirement that the reader accept the supernatural element as part of the reality may be a struggle for some readers. I admit, though I have more of a belief (and even an affection for) the supernatural than many others, I myself struggled to not raise an eyebrow and scoff at Picoult’s audacity.
As she always does, Picoult left her ending open, allowing a truly hooked reader to form his or her own opinions about the meaning of the last few paragraphs and about the events of the novel as a whole. She tends to favor topics that are sensitive or highly controversial in the real world, and the end of her novels usually make one think twice about previously-formed beliefs about said topics. This novel obviously addresses the ethics involved in capital punishment, and as usual made me question my established opinions about the subject. I hope that the challenging and intelligent nature of the novel will encourage you to read it. It is worth every moment spent on it.