Thursday Book Talk: “Change of Heart,” by Jodi Picoult

Change of Heart: A Novel by Jodi Picoult
Change of Heart: A Novel
Jodi Picoult
Washington Square Press, 2008 (Paperback) (ISBN 0743496752 / 9780743496759)
Fiction, 480 pages

First Sentence: In the beginning, I believed in second chances.

Book description: One moment June Nealon was happily looking forward to years full of laughter and adventure with her family, and the next, she was staring into a future that was as empty as her heart. Now her life is a waiting game. Waiting for time to heal her wounds, waiting for justice. In short, waiting for a miracle to happen.

For Shay Bourne, life holds no more surprises. The world has given him nothing, and he has nothing to offer the world. In a heartbeat, though, something happens that changes everything for him. Now, he has one last chance for salvation, and it lies with June’s eleven-year-old daughter, Claire. But between Shay and Claire stretches an ocean of bitter regrets, past crimes, and the rage of a mother who has lost her child.
Would you give up your vengeance against someone you hate if it meant saving someone you love? Would you want your dreams to come true if it meant granting your enemy’s dying wish?

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.

Rating:  4/5

Other bloggers’ reviews:
Book Addiction
So Many Books, So Little Time
Planet Books
Maw Books Blog

If you have reviewed this book, please leave a link in comments or e-mail me at 3.rsblog AT Gmail dot com, and I’ll edit this review to include it!

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  1. This is my book club’s pick for this month. I haven’t started it yet, but we’re not meeting until 2/28 so I’ve got time.

    A few years back we read MY SISTER’S KEEPER, and you’re right, it does raise some major issues. In our group the opinions were clearly divided btwn those who have kids and those who don’t.

    I’m not a huge fan of Picoult but she’s not bad either. Unfortunately, I’m really not looking forward to CHANGE OF HEART. I have a feeling that, b/c of the religious theme, it will cause some dissension in the club (or at least, that the debate will get a bit heated). Ah well, that’s how it goes.

    I’ll have a my review of this up later this month – hopefully I’ll remember to come back and leave you a link. 🙂

  2. Thanks for an interesting review. I have only read one Picoult-book and sadly I wasn’t impressed. Reading the list of the books which didn’t impress you overly I am relieved to find that exact book there: Vanishing Acts.

    I read it as part of a Book of the Month in a reading-group and I had a hard time getting through it. You are right that there is nothing wrong with the writing, which is straight and easily read, but something about the plotline irked me, and I really didn’t think it was that great a read.

    Unfortunately, that put me off Picoult and I haven’t picked anything up by her since. But I keep hearing rave reviews, so maybe its time I tried another one?

  3. Heather J – It’s a pretty fast read, so you should be fine for time :-).

    My book club had some great discussion about My Sister’s Keeper. I hope you’ll blog about your book club’s take on Change of Heart – between the religious, capital-punishment, and organ-donation themes, there is no shortage of things to talk about!

    I subscribe to your blog, so if you forget to leave me a link to your review, I’ll find it anyway :-).

    Louise (Bogsider)Vanishing Acts was not one of her best. I hope you’ll give Picoult another chance – try one of the books I mentioned, or one I didn’t but also like a lot, like Nineteen Minutes (reviewed here) or Salem Falls.

  4. Kathy (Bermudaonion) – I didn’t love the ending either, but it didn’t ruin the book for me or anything. It didn’t take me by surprise either, though, and some of her older novels have endings that really caught me off guard.

    Lenore – You started out with a good one, I think. I’ll be interested in knowing which of her books you read next!

  5. Thank you for the great review, Florinda. I haven’t read too many Picoult books–four, I think–but I did like each of them. I like how she writes about topical issues and presents multiple sides to those issues. She’s an author I hope to read all the books of one day, including Change of Heart.

  6. Wendy (Literary Feline) – I like that about her too, and I especially appreciate the way she builds a compelling story around those issues – I think that’s where the talent comes in. You should invite a few of her books to your TBR room :-).

  7. I read a few of Picoult’s that I really enjoyed then I read Second Glance and Nineteen Minutes and my interest kind of drifted. But this one sounds really good, I will definitely give this one a shot.

  8. JoanneSecond Glance bugged me; if I hadn’t read enough Picoult by then to shrug it off, I’m not sure I would have given her books a “second glance” after that myself :-). I thought Nineteen Minutes was good, though. I’m interested in reading what you think of this one!

  9. I thought this one was pretty good. I liked Maggie. However, while I was reading, I kept thinking about The Green Mile. The stories of healing was really similar, too similar for me to think it’s coincidence. I’ve read only a few Picoult books, but I generally enjoy them.

    Diary of an Eccentric

  10. Anna – I haven’t read The Green Mile (the only Stephen King book I’ve ever read is On Writing, which is great, BTW), so I didn’t catch the similarities you mention. I liked Maggie, too. I hope she shows up in another Picoult novel one day, since that’s been known to happen with her characters.