As much as I liked this book and have always enjoyed everything Jodi has written, I found some flaws in Change of Heart. The premise was good: man (Shay Bourne) convicted of murdering a little girl and her cop father is on death row and wants to redeem himself by donating his heart to the victim’s ailing sister eleven years later. However, I found many of the characters unsympathetic. I liked the perspective of Shay’s fellow inmate Lucius, who chronicled the miracles that Shay allegedly performed while incarcerated. I also enjoyed the Father Michael’s emotional conflict of having been on the jury that sentenced Shay to death and now being his spiritual advisor. He is understandably torn between Shay’s miracles and his references to the Gnostic Gospel of Thomas and his own Catholic faith. Plus, I was really pleased with the return of Ian Fletcher, the former tele-athiest from Keeping Faith who is brought on as a religious expert.
So here’s where my mild dissatisfaction comes in regarding the other key characters. June, the mother and wife of the slain victims, Kurt and Elizabeth, seems too overwrought after eleven years since their deaths. She still dwells on the murders as if they happened yesterday, and while I understand how this tragedy greatly affected her, she never seems to move past the initial stages of grief over a decade later. Her overall angst was a bit distracting. Plus she hardly acknowledged the tragedy of her first husband’s death, which led her and Elizabeth to Kurt in the first place. Maggie, the ACLU lawyer who takes on Shay’s case is a strong woman in her profession, but is completely insecure personally, which obviously stems entirely from her mother. I thought it strange that Picoult would partner this overbearing woman with Maggie’s thoughtful and accepting Rabbi father. Finally, I thought that Shay’s character was very inconsistent. At times he seems the introspective and thoughtful Christ-figure that many believe him to be, and at other times he seems the hardened criminal with few moral capacities. When his personal history and motives are revealed, he becomes more sympathetic, but there seems to be more beneath the surface that he was keeping hidden.
In general, it was a good book, but I didn’t feel as if it delivered like some of Picoult’s other works. It lacked originality; as other reviewers have mentioned, it seemed to borrow a bit too much from The Green Mile. It fits her model with alternating perspectives from chapter to chapter and an obligatory courtroom scene. While there were sensitive topics, I didn’t feel it conveyed the emotion of other books like My Sister’s Keeper and Nineteen Minutes, but that could be because I felt the characters did not elicit these feelings.