Book review: Death penalty subject of Picoult’s latest
Jodi Picoult’s novels are like peanut butter cups. I can’t help devouring them, all in one shot, without stopping to breath.
In her latest book, Picoult takes aim at the death penalty and common Catholic beliefs.
“Change of Heart,” follows June Nealson, a woman who loses her husband and daughter in a shooting at her house. A jury sentences Shay Bourne to death for the crimes. The grieving mother gives birth to a second daughter, only to discover this daughter has a potentially fatal heart defect.
When Bourne decides from death row to donate his heart to his victim’s sister, mom must ask herself: Should she save her daughter, if it means granting her enemy’s dying wish?
Picoult never strays from controversy. Her characters always seem to be donating organs or murdering people or knocking each other up. She usually fictionalizes topics from the news. In this way, “Change of Heart” is nothing new.
The plot forces readers to re-examine their stands on the death penalty. It’s a workout for the intellect.
But just as the book flexes the brain, it tugs at the heartstrings. After all, a mom with one dead daughter plus one sick daughter equals one very sympathetic character.
You feel for these people, even if their plights seem contrived at times. (Come on: A family afflicted with a fatal car wreck AND a homicide AND an organ shutdown?)
Also classic Picoult, the book makes heavy use of metaphors. This is compelling most of the time but occasionally borders on hokey.
What makes this book stand out from the other Picoult novels I’ve read is the science fiction element. Miracles start happening in the jail, raising questions about whether Bourne is the Messiah. Water turns to wine. A bird comes back to life with Bourne’s touch. Picoult’s plots always push the boundaries of plausibility, but this is the first time I’ve encountered mysticism.
It’s sort of “The Green Mile” meets the “Da Vinci Code,” ” a comparison Picoult seems to anticipate because she references both in the novel. Indeed, most reviewers have noted the similarities.
Speaking of references, Picoult’s research is impeccable. She alludes to obscure religious texts and weaves in findings from her extensive investigation into the death penalty. For instance, a prisoner makes paint from contraband Skittles, a detail Picoult poached from a real inmate’s letters.
Structurally, Picoult’s use of perspective keeps the plot moving. She leaves the reader guessing about the two most pivotal characters” motivations by depriving those characters of a first-person voice. Neither the sick daughter nor the murder suspect describe the action. Instead, four peripheral characters narrate: the mom, the murder suspect’s lawyer, the murder suspect’s spiritual advisor and a prison inmate.
Whenever I pick up a Picoult novel, I worry reading it will be too depressing. I moped for days after “Nineteen Minutes,” the story of a school shooting. Although a novel about the death penalty hardly qualifies as an upper, “Change of Heart” won’t wreck you. You’ll get to the last page feeling smarter, surprised and charmed.
Sarah Mausolf can be reached at email@example.com or (970) 748-2938.
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