Book Reviews

Book Review: Change of Heart by Jodi Picoult – The Green Mile With a Twist

Author Jodi Picoult is a resident of Hanover, NH. Author Stephen King is a resident of Bangor, ME.  The two are friends and have appeared together in by-lines and at a few local events.  Knowing there is a relationship between the two, my frustration with the similarity of this book to a story by Stephen King was a bit tempered.

Almost as soon as I started reading Change of Heart, I knew I had read something similar before.  One of the main characters, Shay Bourne, is a death-row inmate who begins to perform miracles.  Sounds familiar? If you’ve read Stephen King’s The Green Mile it will be.  At times I felt as if Picoult had lifted the character from King’s book and put it in her own as what Shay is going through is quite similar to inmate John Coffey’s experience in The Green Mile.

Shay Bourne is a handyman convicted of the murder of Elizabeth Nealon, and her step-father, a respected local police officer.  Eleven years later, Elizabeth’s younger sister, Claire, is in need of a heart transplant.  Shay sees this on the news and wants to donate his heart upon his death. The main issue is that he is sentenced to die by lethal injection which will damage the heart to future use. Enter ACLU lawyer Maggie Bloom and Father Michael, a priest with his own hidden secrets.  As they fight to allow Shay to die a different way, the question becomes if Claire and her mother, June, will accept the heart.

The characters are Picoult’s usual. They are fleshed out well and Maggie’s life is shown to involve much more than just being an ACLU lawyer.  Picoult is also very good at slowly revealing to the reader the story behind the crime Shay has been convicted of.  I had a pretty good idea that there was more to the story early on, but exactly what remained a mystery through most of the book.

When Shay is performing miracles and consulting with Father Michael as a spiritual consultant, that’s when Change of Heart felt the most like The Green Mile.  Could Picoult have written the story without including this? I believe so as it works quite well even at the level of allowing a convicted murderer choose how he dies so as to allow a part of him to continue on.  However, this plays into a lot of the background of Father Michael’s character and really allows him to question his faith and beliefs.

Picoult has a few nods to King in Change of Heart. Other inmates on death row begin calling Shay “Green Mile” in response to the miracles he performs. His closest friend on the death row tier is Lucius DuFresne, the same last name as a character in The Shawshank Redemption.  For this reason, I believe King didn’t have a problem with the similarities between the stories, but this still rubbed me the wrong way at times.

I liked Change of Heart.  The characters were fully fleshed out and not flat, which is a huge issue for me most of the time.  The story of organ donation and a death row inmate is a good one, and the death penalty debate is also brought in although not overtly.  It kept me turning the pages as a little is revealed here and there to make me change direction on what I believed was going to happen in the end.  That said, I still have a hard time with the similarities to The Green Mile even if King doesn’t.

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