Thursday, August 13, 2009

Change of Heart by Jodi Picoult

Danger! There may be spoilers ahead (depending on your definition of spoiler). Enter at your own risk!

That being said, this was my August book club book.

I respect this author a great deal because she takes deeply distressing and important social issues and makes them incredibly readable. I think she has done a lot for women's fiction and helped it move beyond books that feature a bare chested Fabio on the cover.

I thought this book was going to be about a woman who had to deal with the heartache of having her child and husband murdered and that the only thing that kept her going in the aftermath would be her (yet) unborn child. I knew that the story was going to hinge on that second child growing up and needing a heart transplant. And I knew that the murderer (on death row) was going to offer his heart to the child.

I thought that the story was going to be about the mother wrestling with whether she would let her child accept the heart of someone she viewed as being evil. It touched on that, but just barely.

It was really more about the Gnostic gospels, specifically the Gospel of Thomas, and moral issues surrounding the death penalty.

The main character, Shay, is on death row for killing a child and her step-father and his lawyers are fighting for him to be killed by hanging rather than lethal injection so he will be able to donate his organs. In order to do this, they have to prove that he believes that donating his heart will save his soul -- and that's where Gnosticism comes in. Though it's a "dead" religion, it's a religion that doesn't lend itself to being organized and states that everyone finds his own way to salvation, so what judge can say that he's not practicing a religion?

There's a lot of symbolism. Shay accidentally performs miracles while he's in prison. The water in the prison turns to wine, he heals the sick, multiplies food, seemingly resurrects the dead, and as these stories start to leak, people start to gather outside the prison believing that he is the messiah, though he never says he is.

The story is told through four different voices which coorespond to the voices of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John in the Bible. Shay never gets a voice of his own and at the end of the book, Picoult explains that this is because the messiah figure in the Bible (Jesus) didn't tell his own story either. Others told it for Him.

It was an interesting story, and I'm glad I read it, but it will not go down in history as my favorite Picoult novel. The religious and courtroom drama aspects of it got a little tiresome for me.

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