Published by the Students of Johns Hopkins since 1896
December 11, 2023

Jodi Picoult Change of HeartAtriaMarch 4, 2008464 pages

Jodi Picoult recently published yet another novel this month, Change of Heart, in which a convicted murderer on death row wishes to donate his heart to the sister of one of his victims.

From the very premise, it is evident that Change of Heart will be a very evocative work of fiction, tugging at the reader's heartstrings at every possible moment, but it's also thought provoking.

As in her other novels, Picoult forces her readers to consider interesting and sometimes controversial topics with well-researched arguments. The topics here are religion, the death penalty and science.

Some might believe that writing 15 books in 16 years, almost a book every year, would make her a formula writer.

One of her most famous novels, My Sister's Keeper, was also a provocative novel with important issues at heart - stem cell research, genetic "designer" babies and cancer.

The way Picoult sets up both novels is very similar, leaning toward formulaic. Both stories are told from the points of view of various characters who are integral to the plot. In this way, Picoult can avoid bias towards one side of an issue.

At first glance, however, the style doesn't seem very unique. Both novels also culminate in court cases, although the purpose of each case varies. The writing proves engaging which prevents the reader from growing tired of the style.

Don't plunge into one of these novels expecting genius - it's more like an incredibly creative thesis paper that happens to take the form of a novel. Picoult has done her research and lets the reader make up his/her own mind about each issue.

In Change of Heart, June Nealon puts her trust in Shay Bourne, a carpenter, when she needs a nursery built before her second daughter is born. She has survived tragedy - her husband died in a car crash, but miraculously, her daughter, Elizabeth, survives.

June marries Kurt, the policeman who helped her after the crash, but just as her family is about to become full again, Bourne betrays her trust. After murdering Elizabeth and Kurt and leaving June alone again, Bourne is convicted and becomes New Hampshire's first death row inmate in 69 years.

However, years later when Bourne is running out of time, he decides that he wants to donate his heart to June's second daughter, Claire, who was born with a heart disease.

The issues that follow are practically as numerous as the books Picoult has written: Bourne performs so-called miracles and is believed by some to be a messiah; Maggie, Bourne's lawyer, has to find a way to allow Bourne to be hanged so his heart can be donated; Michael, a priest, begins to discover old gospels and doubt the foundation of his religion; and June and Claire want to refuse the heart of the man who destroyed their family. Whether the novel is formulaic is not the question. The question is, is it enticing enough to devote our precious free time to reading it?

Jodi Picoult's Change of Heart, is more the kind of novel to read at the beach or on a vacation of some sort. It has the same appeal that The DaVinci Code has - it forces the reader to question everything and is, in that sense, educational. If you are a fan of Picoult's previous novels or are just in need of a good book to help you fall asleep at night, Change of Heart won't disappoint.

Many of the topics in this novel can be considered controversial, but Picoult doesn't treat them in such a manner. Rather, she leaves the final decision to the readers and merely gives them a good foundation to establish an opinion.

Change of Heart looks at the fundamental elements of organized religions, not just Catholicism, but every religion. Her arguments are based on fact and are presented in a fictional story, so the novel doesn't read like a textbook.

Change of Heart also examines the death penalty in America and shows the reader a first-hand account of a prisoner waiting patiently to die. The plot is intricate (a little unbelievable at times, leaning toward the "too coincidental") and gripping, and the characters all seem very real, especially since we hear the story directly from them.

Ultimately, Change of Heart isn't a must-read, but it's a should-read. If sometime between midterms and finals, there are a few minutes of free time that you are willing to devote to an interesting book, then you should pick it up.

If you don't have any free time at the moment, remember the title in a few months when you leave Hopkins for the summer.

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