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Change of Heart: a novel By Jodi Picoult

Publisher: New York, Atria Books Publication date: 2008 Pages: 447 p. ISBN: 9780743496742 Awarded the New England Bookseller Award for fiction in 2003.


In her fifteen novels, Jodi Picoult delves deep into the most troubling contemporary social issues, writing fiction that the New York Daily News calls "intelligent, often moving, and always ripe for book club discussion. In Change of Heart, she examines a convicted killer on death row, Shay Bourne, who has taken the lives of Officer Kurt Nealon and his young stepdaughter, Elizabeth. When Shay discovers that his victim's living daughter, Claire, is desperately in need of a heart transplant, he sees his only chance for salvation. Standing in his way, however, is the law and a mother filled with anger and revenge. On his side are some unexpected allies -- a Catholic priest who had a hand in Shay's sentencing; an ambitious attorney who, despite her deep convictions against capital punishment is determined to see Shay die on his own terms; and a community who sees something in Shay that gives them hope..

Summary (from the publisher)

Can we save ourselves, or do we rely on others to do it? Is what we believe always the truth? 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?



Publishers Weekly Picoult bangs out another ripped-from-the-zeitgeist winner, this time examining a condemned inmate's desire to be an organ donor. Freelance carpenter Shay Bourne was sentenced to death for killing a little girl, Elizabeth Nealon, and her cop stepfather. Eleven years after the murders, Elizabeth's sister, Claire, needs a heart transplant, and Shay volunteers, which complicates the state's execution plans. Meanwhile, death row has been the scene of some odd events since Shay's arrival--an AIDS victim goes into remission, an inmate's pet bird dies and is brought back to life, wine flows from the water faucets. The author brings other compelling elements to an already complex plot line: the priest who serves as Shay's spiritual adviser was on the jury that sentenced him; Shay's ACLU representative, Maggie Bloom, balances her professional moxie with her negative selfimage and difficult relationship with her mother. Picoult moves the story along with lively debates about prisoner rights and religion, while plumbing the depths of mother-daughter relationships and examining the many meanings of having heart. School Library Journal Noted for her heart-wrenching stories and the complicated humanity of her characters, Picoult (The Tenth Circle; My Sister's Keeper) continues her successful foray into fiction. In her new novel, she delves into questions of faith, vengeance, and redemption by exploring the rage of a mother who has lost a daughter, the bitterness of a criminal on death row, and the fate of a critically ill child that forces them together one last time to test the question, Can even the most understandable thirst for vengeance be quashed if it means saving someone you love? Picoult tackles the most complicated personal and political issues with compassion and clarity, and her fans will want this one Kirkus A convicted murderer who may be a latter-day Messiah wants to donate his heart to the sister of one of his victims, in Picoult's frantic 15th (Nineteen Minutes, 2007, etc.). Picoult specializes in hot-button issues. This latest blockbuster-to-be stars New Hampshire's first death-row inmate in decades, Shay Bourne, a 33-year-old carpenter and drifter convicted of murdering the police officer husband of his employer, June, and her seven-year-old daughter, Elizabeth. Eleven years later Shay is still awaiting execution by lethal injection. Suddenly, miracles start to happen around Shay-cell-block tap water turns to wine, an AIDS-stricken fellow inmate is cured, a pet bird and then a guard are resurrected from the dead. Shay's spiritual adviser, Father Michael, is beginning to believe that Shay is a reincarnation of Christ, particularly when the uneducated man starts quoting key phrases from the Gnostic gospels. Michael hasn't told Shay that he served on the jury that condemned him to death. June's daughter Claire, in dire need of a heart transplant, is slowly dying. When Shay, obeying the Gnostic prescription to "bring forth what is within you," offers, through his attorney, ACLU activist Maggie, to donate his heart, June is at first repelled. Practical obstacles also arise: A viable heart cannot be harvested from a lethally injected donor. So Maggie sues in Federal Court to require the state to hang Shay instead, on the grounds that his intended gift is integral to his religious beliefs. Shay's execution looms, and then Father Michael learns more troubling news: Shay, who, like Jesus, didn't defend himself at trial, may be innocent.



Jodi Picoult (May 19, 1966 -) was born and raised in Nesconset on Long Island but moved to New Hampshire when she was 13 years old. Picoult wrote her first story at age 5, entitled "The Lobster Which Misunderstood." She received an A.B. in creative writing from Princeton and a master's degree in education from Harvard. The recipient of the 2003 New England Book Award for her entire body of work, she is the author of sixteen novels, including The Tenth Circle, Vanishing Acts, and My Sister's Keeper, for which she received the American Library Association's Margaret Alexander Edwards Award. Recently, she penned several issues of Wonder Woman for DC Comics. She lives in New Hampshire with her husband and three children. Born on Long Island, New York, Jodi Picoult was convinced that the tranquil, suburban setting offered no real inspiration to her for being a writer. There was no drama; just the daily grind of families living their lives. Eventually, though, the story of this challenge became the core of Picoult's bestselling novels. Picoult studied creative writing at Princeton, and before she graduated, she had two short stories published in Seventeen magazine. This early success inspired Picoult to devote her life to writing. After college, she paid the bills with a series of copywriting and editing jobs, and she even taught eighth grade English. Marriage and children soon followed, and while she was pregnant with her first child, she wrote her first novel, Songs of the Humpback Whale, a remarkable tale told from five different points of view that heralded a bold new voice in fiction. In subsequent novels, Picoult has mined the complex mysteries of everyday life: love, marriage, career, family. Faced with difficult, often painful moral choices, her characters struggle to find balance in an off-kilter world fraught with danger and shattered by terrible sociological ills like domestic violence, sexual abuse, and teen suicide. Though pageturners of the highest order, Picoult's stories avoid easy solutions and provoke thoughtful reading and animated discussion. Unsurprisingly, they are a favorite choice for book clubs. From her web site, Picoult talks about the relationship between her family and her writing. "It took me a while to find the balance," Picoult says, "but I'm a better mother because I have my writing ... and I'm a better writer because of the experiences I've had as a parent that continually remind me how far we are willing to go for the people we love the most." If she could invite anyone, living or dead, to a dinner party, Picoult's guest list would include Ernest Hemingway, Alice Hoffman, William Shakespeare, Mel Gibson, and Emeril Lagasse. When asked what book influenced her most, this is what she said: Gone With The Wind. I read it when I was twelve --I was a total dork, and memorized huge sweeping dialogues I could act out as both Scarlett and Rhett. But what stuck with me was the way Margaret Mitchell managed to create an entire world out of words. I thought, "I want to do that." (Author bio and interview from Barnes & Noble.)


Watch a video and listen to Jodi Picoult talk about Change of Heart at


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Songs of the Humpback Whale (1992) Harvesting the Heart (1993) Picture Perfect (1995) Mercy (1996) The Pact (1998) Keeping Faith (1999) Plain Truth (2000) Salem Falls (2001) Perfect Match (2002) Second Glance (2003) My Sister's Keeper (2004) Vanishing Acts (2005) The Tenth Circle (2006) Nineteen Minutes (2007) Wonder Woman (vol. 3) #6-10 (cover date: late May 2007 - August 2007) Wonder Woman: Love and Murder (2007) (hardcover volume collecting Wonder Woman #6-10) Change of Heart (2008) Handle With Care (novel) (2009) House rules (2010)

Interview with the Author (Simon Says 2008) What was the seed that started this story? You've sympathetically delved into the minds of criminals in previous novels, but what led you this time to death row? Most of my books begin with something I'm worrying about, and Change of Heart was no exception. As an American, I feel like this country can be folded along a fault line of religion -- all the controversial issues (abortion, gay rights, capital punishment) can often be judged along religious lines. It got me wondering why religion, which was historically meant to unite people, has become so divisive...and why we believe what we do. Who says that just because you're right, that means someone else has to be wrong? Why do we believe the things that we do -- because they're right, or because it's too scary to admit we don't know the answers? I narrowed the focus along capital punishment because it's one of the controversies in America that people have passionate opinions about -- but often don't know why they have those opinions, or bother to listen to the other side's arguments...and because I myself didn't know how I'd feel about the death penalty when I finished exploring its underlying issues.


Did you personally visit death row prisoners? What was that experience like? What did you expect going in, and what were you surprised by? I've been to death row in Arizona, twice now. It's a very strange place -- in all the years I've been doing research, I don't think I've ever seen such a cloud of secrecy like the one I found there. I was literally on a plane when my visit was being nearly canceled -- I had to arrive at the facility and talk my way into it, because they decided if I was a writer, I must be "media." I was able to charm the authorities into giving me a tour of their death row -which is more serene than you'd think, because the inmates are locked into their individual cells twenty-three hours a day. Then I begged to be taken to the execution chamber -- the death house, as it used to be called in Arizona. It was while I was examining their gas chamber (Arizona uses both gas and lethal injection) that the warden approached me to ask me again who I was, and why I was writing a book about this. She definitely had her guard up -- and wasn't budging an inch. We started talking about the last execution in Arizona; and at some point she mentioned she was a practicing Catholic. "If you're Catholic," I said, "do you think the death penalty is a good thing?" She stared at me for a long moment and then said, "I used to." At that moment, the wall between us came down, and she was willing to tell me everything I wanted and needed to know -- including scenes you'll see in Change of Heart -- details that are top secret, and that aren't even given to prisoners who sue for the information. At one point I was talking to the warden in the death house, and I was having trouble juggling notebooks and papers. I leaned against the closest surface to take notes more easily...only to realize I was sprawled across the lethal injection gurney, which really freaked me out! What surprised me the most about death row was that everyone I met who worked there in Arizona said they did not believe in the death penalty -- they'd seen too many old feeble men executed, because the system takes so long; they'd seen recidivist criminals whose crimes weren't "eligible" for the death penalty. To them, justice didn't seem particularly just, and yet they all also said they would continue to do their jobs. I went back a second time to meet a death row prisoner named Robert Towery. We are still pen pals -- he calls me ma'am, asks after my kids, and is a brilliant artist (he has to make his own pigments, like Lucius in Change of Heart). He fills me in on the plots of Lost and Grey's Anatomy. He is by all accounts a very nice guy -- except for the fact that he committed armed robbery and told the victim he was going to anesthetize him...and instead injected the guy with battery acid and killed him. He says he was high at the time, and has been sober for over a decade now. It really made me think hard: We all know it's wrong to execute someone innocent. But what about someone who's guilty? When did you first encounter the Gnostic gospels and what did you find striking about them? I had first heard about them on a PBS documentary, and I was struck by the individuality they advocated in religious practice -- the idea that it's different for everyone, that there might be many paths up to the same spiritual peak. I remember thinking at the time what a different world this would have been if they'd been the dominant gospels, rather than the ones we've seen in the New Testament. Elaine Pagels, one of the foremost authorities on the Gnostic gospels, is a professor at Princeton, my alma mater. I was fortunate enough to badger her into a private tutorial, so that I could learn more about them. After Jesus's


death, Christianity was a mess -- people believed all sorts of different things and studied many different gospels. One group, the Gnostic Christians, felt that being baptized was a good beginning, but that to know God, you have to know yourself. Or in other words, there's a little bit of divinity in all of us, coded and hidden...and it's up to each of us to figure out how to get it out. The Gnostics felt that religion was something that by definition had to be personal -- and that if you simply believed what others told you to believe or said the right words during a church service or just got baptized, it wasn't enough to reach spiritual fulfillment. Above all else, the Gnostics said, ask questions. Don't believe everything you're told; don't assume that just because someone says "This is the way it should be done" that he or she is right. As you can imagine, this sent the early Christian church into a tizzy -- and the Gnostic gospels were labeled heretical, and disappeared...until 1945, when two brothers dug up a jar while looking for fertilizer in Nag Hammadi, Egypt, and found fifty-one of those gospels. In the meantime, Irenaeus -- the bishop of Lyons -- codified the Church by deciding that there would be four main gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John) and laying the cornerstones of the Nicene Creed. In doing that, Irenaeus said: "Believe this, and you're Christian. If you don't believe this, you're not." Now, there are a lot of good reasons -- political and religious -- why Orthodox Christianity had to reject the Gnostic movement in order to solidify its own beliefs...but something else was lost along with those gospels: the belief that people might reach spiritual enlightenment in a variety of ways, rather than one "right" way. "If you bring forth what is within you," Jesus says, in the Gospel of Thomas, "what you bring forth will save you. If you do not bring forth what is within you, what you do not bring forth will destroy you." Sounds like a riddle, right? But it's actually pretty simple: the potential to free yourself -- or ruin yourself -- is entirely up to you. Which gets pretty interesting when you're talking about a condemned man who happens to think that donating his heart to the sister of his victim is the way to save himself. In your acknowledgments you say "it's very hard to write about religion responsibly. Why do you think that's so. Do you think it's specific to religious culture in the US? In this country, which was founded by people seeking religious freedom, there isn't just the chance to practice what you want -- there's also the freedom of speech to preach it. The rise of the Evangelical movement in particular shows the difference between following one's religion and feeling obligated to save the souls of others who haven't found the same spiritual enlightenment you have. To the preacher, the act of trying to convert someone is doing that person a favor. To those who don't wish to be converted, however, it's very intrusive. To that end, it's really hard to write about religion without preaching -- but instead, with the intention to get people to understand why they believe what they do, and whether that necessarily means everyone else's beliefs are rendered null and void. t's interesting: I interviewed rabbis and priests and ministers for this book, and every last one of them was fantastic and admitted that they don't really know which religion, if any, is the "right" one -- and that there may be a lot of ways to reach spiritual enlightenment...but that open-mindedness does not always filter down through the congregations, unfortunately! People who pick up Change of Heart aren't going to find me preaching to them -- because, as the book suggests, what I believe isn't necessarily what they have to


believe or should believe -- but they will find me asking them to think hard about their beliefs. This is a provocative book and will no doubt be controversial. What do you hope this novel might add to conversations about religion and capital punishment? I hope that instead of looking at religion as a set of absolutes, people who read Change of Heart might look at the book as a chance to start a conversation. As for the death penalty, I hope while exploring the reasons that capital punishment is allegedly good for us, we can be honest enough to admit those explanations don't always stand up to logic -- which means that if we keep capital punishment on the law books, we have to admit that it may not be fair, or cheaper, or a deterrent...but instead a way for us to permanently exclude from society someone who we think doesn't belong there with us. You constructed this story by interweaving the narratives of four main characters -June, Michael, Lucius, and Maggie. How difficult is it to juggle those four voices? Did you find yourself naturally wanting to give equal time to each character, or did you feel inclined to stay with one longer? When I write a book in multiple narratives, there is always one or two that are easier than others. In Change of Heart, Maggie was by far the most fun to write -- she has a terrific, easy, funny voice. June was the most painful, and the one that caught me most unawares. When I as a writer thought I knew how I felt about capital punishment, I'd write one of June's sections and flip-flop. Lucius was enjoyable, too, because he's not your typical prisoner, and because he's an instrument through which we get to hear and see Shay. Michael was the hardest for me -- probably because he was the least open-minded at first! Why did you decide not to write from Shay's point of view? Maggie, Michael, Lucius, and June correspond with Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. Shay, as the messianic character, does not have his own voice in a "gospel" -- and neither does Jesus, in the New Testament. A lot of work and research has been done recently on "restorative justice," a mutual healing process where victims and offenders meet face-to-face. Do you think that this is a credible way of dealing with serious criminals? I think in many cases, what a victim wants more than anything is to hear that the perpetrator is sorry. And also, in many cases, the perpetrator needs to be able to say that to the victim and his or her family in order to move on. It certainly won't work in all situations -- as you see in Change of Heart -- but I wish it was more prevalent in prison settings. To me, a successful restorative justice meeting is a better indicator of a change of heart for an inmate, and fosters more healing, than a life sentence where no reconciliation ever occurs. What's next for you? Handle with Care -- the 2009 novel, which is about a wrongful birth suit. These cases are pretty fascinating -- it involves a parent suing her OB for not being told earlier that a child was going to be severely impaired. Most parents who sue love their kids very much...but want to give them the best lives possible, which is very expensive given the level of


physical impairment, so they sue. However, it means getting up in front of a jury and saying that if you'd known your child was going to be this handicapped, you would never have had the baby. Not only is that emotionally devastating...but it usually creates a lawsuit that circles back to questions of abortion rights, and who gets to decide what sort of life is or isn't worth living. At what point should an OB counsel termination? Should a parent have the right to make that choice? How handicapped is too handicapped? As you can see, lots of thorny moral and ethical questions in this one -- which is why I love it! In Handle with Care the stakes are a bit higher, because the OB -- Piper Reece -- and the mom -- Charlotte O'Keefe -- are best friends...until Charlotte's daughter is born with osteogenesis imperfecta type III, a very severe form of brittle bone disease. These are children who, literally, will have hundreds of breaks over the course of a lifetime; you can lift up your infant and break her back; she can roll over and break her ribs. Thematically, the book explores the things that break apart in times of stress: bones, friendships, families. Death Penalty Information April 2009 pdf on Death Penalty facts by State (New Jersey and New York among 15 states that do not have the death penalty) Legal Information Institute (Cornell Law) You can write letters to inmates on death row by contacting Death Row Support Project, PO Box 600, Liberty Mills, IN 46946.

Gnostic Gospels (from wikipedia) The term gnostic gospels refers to gnostic collections of writings about the teachings of Jesus, written from the 2nd - 4th century AD. These gospels are not accepted by most mainstream Christians as part of the standard Biblical canon. Rather, they are part of what is called the New Testament apocrypha. However, public interest has been spurred by recent novels and films which refer to them


Discussion Questions From Simon & Schuster 1. The author uses several famous quotations from some of the greatest thinkers in history, including Lewis Carroll, Voltaire, Woody Allen, Mother Teresa, Mark Twain, the Dalai Lama, Bono, Friedrich Nietzsche, and Albert Einstein. What effect do these philosophical tidbits have on the telling of this story? Which one resonated most with you? 2. Discuss the theme of belief in this novel. What does Shay believe, and who believes in him? Apply this same question to Maggie, Michael, and June. Did this story call any of their beliefs into question? Which ones? 3. When Shay is moved to the I-tier, some very strange things start happening -- water turns to wine, Calloway's pet robin is brought back to life, a tiny piece of gum becomes enough for all to share. Some call these miracles while others call them hijinks. What do you make of these incidents? Were you convinced that Shay had divine powers, and if so, at what point did you make that conclusion? 4. Michael tells Maggie that "there's a big difference between mercy and salvation" (142). What is that difference? Which characters are pursuing mercy and which are pursuing salvation? Which, do you think, is granted in the end for each of the main characters? 5. Having lost a daughter and two husbands, June's life is fraught with grief. How do you see that grief shaping her character and informing the choices that she makes? Do you think she makes choices in order to reconcile the past or in hopes of a better future? 6. How do the three religions referenced in this book (Judaism, Christianity, Gnosticism) imagine the presence or reappearance of the divine? Compare Michael's vision on p. 71 with Rabbi Bloom's explanation of the Jewish Midrash on p. 96 and Shay's depiction of heaven on p.106. 7. Consider the passage on p.165 where Maggie thinks "the penitentiary [Shay] was referring to was his own body." In what ways are some of the other characters in this book (Claire, Maggie, Lucius) imprisoned by their bodies? 8. Discuss June's questions on p. 184: "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?" How do the characters answer this question? 9. June thinks that if Claire accepted a heart transplant from Shay Bourne and had to absorb the emotional pain of her father's and sister's murders, it would be "better to have no heart at all" (238). This statement eerily echoes Shay's own statement to June that her first daughter, Elizabeth, "was better off dead." How do you feel about the adults in this novel making such grave choices over the life of a child? Do you feel like they are being protective or presumptuous?


10. Why do you think Shay never puts up a real fight for his innocence? Do you believe he is resigned to his fate or is an active participant in choosing it? Has he made the ultimate sacrifice or is he just trying to make the most out of circumstances beyond his control? 11. Does Change of Heart have a hero? If so, who is it? 12. In Change of Heart, religion seems at times to bring characters together and at others to drive a wedge between them. Ultimately, do you think religion unites or divides people. Discussion Questions from If you were June Nealon, would you have accepted Shay's heart for your daughter? Why were so many people quick to believe that Shay was a messiah? Did you find the fact that people would deify someone on death row believable? Did June ever forgive Shay? Do you think she believed he may have been innocent? Do you think Picoult did a good job developing the characters? Were they believable? What role did Lucius play in the story? Do you think Shay healed him? Picoult says she tried "to write about religion responsibly" (vii). Do you think she succeeded? Did Change of Heart make you question your beliefs? Why do you think June invited Shay's sister over at the end?

For Further Reading

Keeping Faith by Jodi Picoult A Lesson Before Dying by Ernest J. Gaines The Executioner's Song by Norman Mailer Sleep Toward Heaven: A Novel by Amanda Eyre Ward Edward's Eyes by Patricia MacLachlan The Green Mile by Stephen King Dead Man Walking: An Eyewitness Account Of The Death Penalty In The United States by Helen Prejean Other authors who match Picoult in writing style, characters and topics Chris Bohjalian Midwives or The Double Bind Jacquelyn Mitchard, The Deep End of the Ocean Sue Miller The Good Mother or While I Was Gone Ann Hood. Properties of Water Luanne Rice Home Fires



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