Tag Archives: prison fiction

Book Review – Change of Heart

A Change of Heart, by Jodi Picoult is an excellent novel that examines several factors, from the death penalty to religion and politics, and to the dynamics of organ donation.

Shay Bourne is awaiting execution on death row in New Hampshire, for the murder of policeman Kurt Nealon and his stepdaughter, Elizabeth. Bourne wants to donate his heart to Claire, sister of murdered victim, Elizabeth. It will be the first execution in 69 years. Bourne feels it is the only way he can find redemption and salvation, within his personal spiritual belief. The problem is that in order to donate his heart to Claire, death must be by hanging in order for the heart to be able to be useful, and he has been sentenced to death by lethal injection.

It is not without reason that I find Picoult named the prisoner Shay Bourne. The given name Shay in Hebrew means supplanter and also gift, and the Irish meaning is hawk and also can mean admirable, while the Gaelic meaning is gift. The surname Bourne means spring or stream, or one who lives near a spring or stream, or even border/boundary. It can also mean birth, beginning, rebirth. The variable meanings of these names can apply to the personality, mindset, and the endeavor of Shay Bourne to donate his heart to Claire.

Change of Heart is like a woven tapestry, and alternates between Bourne, June Nealon..wife of Kurt, Michael…a priest who was on the jury that convicted Bourne… now Bourne’s spiritual advisor, Lucius…a prisoner, Maggie…Jewish and an ACLU representative, and finally, Claire…who is awaiting a heart transplant. We view the events unrolling through their individual perspectives.

Shay is viewed by some as the Messiah, due to certain incidents in prison where others feel he performed miracles, such as reviving a dead bird, bringing wine through the prison water system, etc. The Gnostic Gospels come into play, also, as Bourne seems to be able to quote from them, with sayings supposedly made by Jesus. Bourne becomes a martyr of sorts for the death penalty.

Jodi Picoult has written a compelling novel, on many levels, including mother-daughter relationships, prisoner rights in relation to religious beliefs and their choice of how to die, forgiveness and love, and church and state. Many questions arise. At what point is organized religion the answer to our faith? Can religious boundaries be crossed through over-zealousness? Is the death penalty the answer to murder? Should prisoners donate organs? There are many thoughts to ponder, and no clear or definitive answer to the questions that are conjured in our mind. Jodi Picoult brings those issues to the forefront in


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