Cobwebs & Dust Bunnies

“Change of Heart” By Jodi Picoult

A review by Hillary Lutter
This is the third Jodi Picoult book I’ve read and again she takes the polar plunge, head first into the deep end, in December.
Unflinching, Picoult has no problem sticking the reader straight into the tough stuff. “My Sister’s Keeper” delves into the genetic engineering of “designer children.” “Nineteen Minutes” dumps you into a shooting in a school. “Change of Heart” tackles not only capital punishment, but religion, as well. Warning: think twice about discussing a Picoult book in a bar.
In “Change of Heart” Picoult follows the lives of four people, Michael, Maggie, Lucius and June (modeled after the New Testament Gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John).
You get to know Michael as Father Michael after taking his vows into the priesthood, but you are introduced to him initially as a young man, still unsure of his path in life. As a student, he has found himself on the jury of a capital murder trial. His decision is one that will have an impact of which he can’t begin to understand the repercussions, on his own life, and that of the man’s he holds in his hands.
Soon after, Michael joins the seminary, giving his life to God, but has he felt a calling to the priesthood, or is he on a lifelong mission for absolution?
Maggie is the energetic, young liberal lawyer working for the ACLU, filing lawsuits against schools for not allowing kids to wear certain clothes in school, or for their right to not say the Pledge of Allegiance. She sees herself as the conscience of the establishment, a “thorn in their side,” fighting for the greater good. At the same time, she is a self-proclaimed atheist, who has a rabbi for a father.
Maggie hears the words “death penalty” and immediately leaps at the chance to defend the killer, and in doing so is hoping to use him to slingshot her career straight to the top.
Lucius is an AIDS patient on death row. He’s an artist. He’s gay. He’s a killer. In a jealous rage, Lucius shot and killed his partner, Adam. He now finds himself in prison waiting to die, but is determined to do it on his terms, as he has secretly stopped taking the cocktail of medicine that treats his disease.
Yet, an odd, new inmate somehow gives him a new lease on life — or maybe just something to believe in.
June is the mother and wife of the victims in the double murder. Having lost a first husband in a car accident, she falls in love with one of the officers on the scene that took a special interest in her. Together they raise the baby she was pregnant with during the accident. Life seems good again. June has a wonderful husband, a beautiful daughter and another on the way. And then he enters their life.
She carries with her a certain amount of guilt. She was the one who let that man into their home. Unkempt and clumsy with words, socially inept, June tells herself not to judge. They desperately need a carpenter, and he is a carpenter.
Having lost everything, June believes any god that would allow such things to happen is not a god she cares to know. She wants nothing more than to go with her husband and daughter, but is kept on earth by the only thing that could do it: the life growing inside of her.
June wants — she needs — to see Shay Bourne die.
Shay’s story is told by the voices of those around him, just as Jesus’ story is told in the Bible. But something with this murderer, this child killer, is just a little… off. Somehow, odd things happen around Shay, some say “miracles”; how does he know these things? Is he the cold-blooded killer Michael believed he knew from trial? Or could there really be something divine in someone who would commit such evil acts?
Now, the one thing that Shay believes will bring him salvation is the one thing June needs more than anything in this world. Struggling with the right answer, she asks, “Would you want your dreams to come true if it meant granting your enemy’s dying wish?”
“Change of Heart” tackles some giant issues. It pings between the ideas of Christians, Jews and Gnostics and manages to unite, and separate, all those involved. It puts into question the beliefs of all organized religions and causes one to ask the question, “What is your path to salvation?”

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