Change of Heart: A Novel
Washington Square Press, 2008 (Paperback) (ISBN 0743496752 / 9780743496759)
Fiction, 480 pages
First Sentence: In the beginning, I believed in second chances.
Comments: This is Jodi Picoult’s fifteenth novel, and I’ve read every one of them. I’ve loved some of them (My Sister’s Keeper, Perfect Match, Plain Truth, The Pact) and been less impressed with others (Vanishing Acts, Second Glance, The Tenth Circle), but I’ve found all of them worth reading. She has reached that level of popularity where she’s been the subject of backlash in recent years, but I discovered her a few years before that breakthrough, and she remains one of my must-read authors. Her style has developed certain consistencies over the years – one might call it a formula, but I don’t. Her earlier novels tended to open with a crisis, go to backstory, and then pick the crisis back up about halfway through and move forward with it; more recently, she has employed the multiple-narrator device she used in her first novel, Songs of the Humpback Whale, to tell the story from various angles. Picoult’s novels have always been contemporary and topical, however; most of them have also had late plot twists, and quite a few have raised more questions than they’ve answered.
The first Picoult novel I ever read was Keeping Faith, and Change of Heart is an indirect follow-up to that book, including some of the same characters in minor roles. While Change of Heart‘s primary story is certainly controversial on its own – a death-row inmate wants to donate his heart to a sick young girl, who happens to be the daughter and sister of his victims – the real topic of the novel is religion. The primary narrators are Father Michael, a young Catholic priest who, prior to entering the seminary, served on the jury that convicted and sentenced Shay Bourne, and Maggie Bloom, a skeptical ACLU lawyer who happens to be a rabbi’s daughter. Through their perspectives, as well as those of another prisoner and the wife and mother of Bourne’s victims, questions about the purpose of religion and the meaning of salvation are examined in the framework of a compelling, suspenseful page-turner.
Picoult’s writing is good without calling attention to itself, but what stands out about her novels is her storytelling. Her style tends to mean that some characters are better-developed than others – in this novel, I thought Maggie was the most fully realized – and they serve to advance the plot and explore her themes. I found the themes in Change of Heart particularly resonant, given my interest in religious studies, and I think this novel will stick with me for awhile – for my money, it ranks among Picoult’s best.
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