17 April 2008

Book Review: Change of Heart by Jodi Picoult

"Shay Bourne becomes the first person in decades to be sentenced to death in New Hampshire, when he is found guilty of the cold-blooded killing of a policeman and his step-daughter. After eleven years on Death Row, the end is coming for Shay.

Until he sees a news piece about a young girl who urgently needs a heart transplant.

June's husband and daughter died at Shay Bourne's hands, and she thought her greatest desire was to see him killed. Then her remaining daughter is hospitalised, and she realises that there is something she wants even more: for Claire to live. Shay Bourne is offering June's daughter a miracle - a second chance. But at what cost?"

Like all of Picoult's book, this one has a controversial main storyline and a court case, so nothing new there. Even though they all follow the same format, they make for wonderful reading and every page absorbs me, I just have to keep reading to find out more. This particular book tackles the issue of the Death Penalty in the United States, and at the same time, the issue of Organ Donation. You wouldn't have thought both topics could evolve in the same storyline but amazingly they do, to great effect.

As you can see, the plot is pretty full-on and its certainly not a book you want to dive into lightly. You have to sit and concentrate on every word, and the book really tests your own thoughts on the issues within; the death penalty, organ donation and also religion. As well as the main themes, religion plays a major part in the book because Shay seems to be performing miracles from within the prison. Can a murderer really be Jesus reincarnated? There are just so many questions in the book, and my head was spinning after finishing some chapters, and I just couldn't stop thinking about the things that Picoult was writing about, which is a real talent.

Interestingly, although the story evolves around Shay Bourne completely, we never actually hear from the character himself. The book is written from several points of view, all in the first person, which makes for interesting and varied reading. Firstly, we hear occasionally from June, the one most affected by Shay's actions. She is clearly bitter and we get a real insight into her personal battles with herself over whether or not she should let her daughter have the heart of a convicted double-murderer. The fact June's chapters occur rarely make them more powerful when you read them, and the short length of them also add something to them. She is concise, and often makes you turn around any sorry feelings you might develop towards Shay, so in turn, the author is making you question every feeling you have for Shay!

We also hear from Lucius, Shay's next-door inmate, also in prison for murder. He has AIDs and is suffering bad health, and the two form some sort of friendship within the prison. Lucius seems to believe in the miracles Shay seems to be performing, but doesn't have religious beliefs himself. Lucius' chapters were really good to read, as they offered an insight into prison life and were incredibly well written, with deep insights into all sorts of things. Maggie Bloom is Shay's attorney who is going to help him die in a way which enables him to donate his heart. Maggie isn't confident, but is passionate about her work as a lawyer, and is determined to help Shay. Her father is a Rabbi, but despite this she doesnt have strong religious beliefs in any form. You can see Maggie's feelings towards Shay at the end changing a lot, and it is interesting the way Picoult does this gradually, and also affects your own feelings also.

The final character we get told the story by is Father Michael, a priest who becomes Shay's spiritual advisor. However, Father Michael has a secret to hide from Shay, because he knows if it comes out, Shay won't want to know him. Still Michael carries on as his advisor, and the two become close, with Shay trusting his deepest thoughts to the priest. However, I did find some of the priests chapters hard-going because of all the religious text describing various things to do with the Bible, the Gnostic gospels and also even delving a bit into the Jewish faith. Hard-going but definitely interesting.

The use of the first person writing in the book, despite it being narrated by multiple characters was incredibly interesting, and is one of the key features in any of Jodi Picoult's books. It works well though, because of the controversial topics used, it is so interesting to see many points of views, and Picoult seems to be able to switch from one person to another seamlessly without its feeling stunted or that it doesn't flow properly.

For me, Picoult's talent lies in creating a very powerful book which for days after, you are still contemplating the issues of and you know it has left a mark on you. I was incredibly moved by My Sister's Keeper, the first of Picoult's novels I read, and this has coninued through every novel I have read from her. This one in particular however, was especially powerful, with a really controversial theme at its heart. tH Death Penalty is certainly a tough one to debate, especially as we don't have it in this country, and to be honest, this book made me glad we don't have the ability in this country to sentence someone to death. There are too many issues surrounding the whole thing, and Picoult is careful to bring each one of these to light in her novel.

This is truly an amazing book to read, and you must give it a try, even if you haven't read any of Jodi Picoult's previous work. This isn't her best book, but comes extremely close. I read this in just a few days, despite being a real chunk of a book, it is incredibly absorbing and I just couldn't put it down. The human emotion in the books draws you in, causing your feelings to change from one chapter to the next, and by the end, you're left questioning everything you had thought from the start. Even as write this now, I can't put my finger on my own views on this, I flit from one viewpoint to another, and for me, this is where Picoult's talent lies...making her reader feel the emotions of the book, and able to pull their own conclusions from it. A truly wondeufl piece of literature, simply superb. 

Rating: 5/5

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