Would you let your child be saved by a convicted killer? Some immediately would say yes and some would hesitate due to the “evil” of that person and not wanting them associated with their child. Jodi Picoult has consistently been one of my favorite authors. Her books dare you to understand BOTH sides of very controversial issues and once again she has created a very thought provoking book. Please be aware that my book review of A Change of Heart does include some spoilers.
June Nealon has faced a lot of heartache…more than the average person. Through this book we meet numerous characters that all have a large impact on her life. These people bring us face to face with prison life, child illness, organ donation, religion and capital punishment! Whew! That’s a book packed with a lot of controversial issues…don’t ya think?
Characters in Change of Heart ~
Following are the characters in Change of Heart. I have given a brief description of their relation to the story. I find it helpful to write out the characters as I go until I get fully acquainted with them.
- June Nealon – mother of Claire and Elizabeth, wife to Jack first, wife to Kurt second
- Elizabeth Nealon – daughter of June & Jack
- Kurt Nealon – second husband of June Nealon
- Claire Nealon – daughter of June & Kurt
- Dudley – June & Claire’s springer spaniel
- Shay Bourne – handyman hired by June & Kurt
- Grace Bourne – Shay’s sister
- Michael Wright – juror and priest
- Lucius DuFresne – prisoner at Concord State Prison – murdered his lover, Adam
- Calloway Reece – prisoner at Concord State Prison – white supremacist
- Crash Vitale – prisoner at Concord State Prison – self-appointed leader of I-tier
- Texas Wridell – prisoner at Concord State Prison
- Pogie Simmons – prisoner at Concord State Prison
- Joey Kunz – prisoner at Concord State Prison – pedophile
- Alma – prison nurse
- Maggie Bloom – ACLU lawyer
- Oliver – Maggie’s pet rabbit
- Rabbi Joel Bloom – Maggie’s father
- Mrs. Bloom – Maggie’s mother
- Dr. Wu – Clair’es cardiac physician
- Dr. Christian Gallagher – doctor
- Judge Haig – Judge that presides over Shay’s second trial
- Ian Fletcher – Gnostic gospel expert
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The Plot ~
While there are many characters and topics woven into this book, the main plotline is that June loses a child to a horrific murder and the convicted murderer, who sits on death row, wants to donate his heart to her remaining daughter, who is critically ill. What would you do?
Wow! My initial thought is heck yes I would do anything to save my child’s life. However, what do you do when the sick child learns where her potential new heart may be coming from? Your precious child KNOWS that this is from the man that murdered her sister! Now that is intense!
State Prison Characters ~
Six cellmates are all curious as the new prisoner, Shay, enters the prison. Shay has just been convicted of murdering June’s daughter and husband. He has been sentenced to death, which none of the other prisoners have experienced. While we don’t want to “care” about these men because of their crimes committed, I found myself caring a bit more than expected about their life. The author makes you realize that while they have done awful things, they are still human.
Lucius, who killed his partner in a jealous rage, is dying from AIDS and his quirkiness is a bit fun to follow. Calloway is big and burly yet is determined to keep a wild bird alive that has somehow made its way into his jail cell. You just realize that they still feel all of the emotions that we feel too!
Death by Hanging ~
As if the main topic isn’t heavy enough, we learn that lethal injection cannot be carried out if he is going to donate his heart. Shay will still be executed, but in order to preserve his organs, he must be killed by hanging. Yikes! I found it intriguing that he was willing to accept deathy by this method (which seems more painful to me!) in order to still remain a donor. There were a lot of specifics introduced here, but I thought it was important to know because the average person doesn’t know all the fine details that go into a “humane” killing.
The Spiritual Advisor ~
While we are getting acquainted with the prisoners, we are also introduced to Michael who is a priest and becomes Shay’s spiritual advisor. Small issue though…Michael also was one of the 12 jurors that sentenced Shay to death. While this was an intriguing twist, I did find it a bit hard to believe that Shay wouldn’t have recognized him. I believe if I were on trial that I would memorize each juror’s face throughout the hearing. Nonetheless, it did create a bit of extra drama for the book!
During numerous visits that Michael has with Shay, there are uncanny “coincidences” or “miracles.” Is it possible that Shay could be the second coming…the messiah…or is he a false prophet? And how is this man that doesn’t seem to know religion at all, quoting verses from the Gospel of Thomas. Wait a minute…what even is the Gospel of Thomas??? 🤔 One of my favorite lines from the book is, “People were always finding Jesus in jail…what if He was already here?”
The Attorney ~
Maggie, who becomes his attorney, is completely dedicated to finding a way to convince the state that they should switch the method of death in order to preserve his organs. She is strongly opposed to capital punishment and thus gets completely invested in Shay’s world. She is raised Jewish but is now agnostic, trying to argue religious freedom for a man that doesn’t practice religion….hmmmm!
Religious Irony ~
As different characters are introduced, it did not pass by me that several of their names have a Biblical ring to them. Dr. “Christian” Gallagher and “Grace” Bourne are two of them. I find this to be entertaining and witty. An extra little layer to the story at hand. I like when I’m reading and find myself chuckling silently over something “fun” the author has done. Lucius is from the Bible as well.
Why Did He Do It? ~
June got a chance to sit face to face with Shay, the murderer of her daughter and husband. She asked what I would assume is the top question any victim would ask if given the chance. Why did you do it? His answer sent her running. Shay said, “She was better off dead.” How dare him say that to her? Or is there more meaning to that than she even realized? What? Not giving you the spoiler on this one!
I thoroughly enjoyed this book. It had my mind racing. Google was used several times as I found myself curious to learn more about some of the topics discussed. I begged others to read it so we could discuss it. It basically had me hooked!
Things I questioned:
- Gospel of Thomas
- Capital Punishment methods of killing
- What form of religion is Jodi Picoult
- Organ Donor
After all of that, it is still being mulled over in my mind. I’m perplexed by the “miracles” Shay was supposedly responsible for. Some of these were explained off toward the end, but others are still hanging out there. I actually think I am going to read this book again to soak it in more…if not the whole book then at least the last 10 chapters.
This book was published several years ago so I’m not sure how I haven’t already read it. Whether you have read it long ago, recently or getting ready to read…I am in high hopes that you will tell me your thoughts on this very thought-provoking book. I hope you enjoy Change of Heart – A Book Review. Let’s chat!
Happy Reading ~