on March 4, 2008
I wanted to love this book. I really, really did. After hearing Jodi speak at the National Book Conference last September, and from being a fan for many years, I'd been waiting anxiously for March 4th to come around, and so was beyond thrilled last month when my boss at the bookstore where I worked parttime (not a Jodi fan herself) snuck an ARC in my mailbox before anyone else saw it.
If you know and love Jodi's books, you know that they follow a formula, and you're ok with that. They all center around a legal/ethical/social/medical issue that's come to a head; typically have at least one sassy yet insecure single female in an investigative/advisory role (who frequently finds love by the end of the story), and all end with a twist. This twist leaves the reader in one of any number of states - lost in thought, changed on a certain issue, outraged at society, or drowning in a pool of tears. (Almost literally on that last one - in fact, when My Sister's Keeper came out in bookstores, one promotion included a pack of kleenex with every sale; also, Jodi told the story at the NBF about how her daughter, upon finishing the book, stormed upstairs, slammed her bedroom door, and would not speak to her for the rest of the day). For Jodi's fans, this formula works, though reading a number in a row (as I did when I first discovered her 6 years ago) can become tiresome (I took a long break after that, and in fact skipped the two books between My Sister's Keeper and Nineteen Minutes - 2 of my three favorites, along w/ Plain Truth).
So having a background in bioethics, and being fascinated by criminology, I eagerly awaited this book and had the high hopes that I'd count it among my favorites. But this book, though gripping, made me roll my eyes WAY too often. Being a fan of Jodi's means that, in exchange for finding that rare book that you cannot put down, you also often have to suspend a bit of disbelief and roll along with some fairly unbelievable plot devices. Trust me, I'm willing to do that. But imbuing a character with supernatural abilities? Really? I just don't think this 'hook' was necessary to keep a reader's attention on a story dealing with as loaded and controversial a topic as the death penalty.
Additionally, there was WAY too little focus on the background of the victim's family and the events leading up to the murders for which the main character, Shayne, was sentenced to death. The book made me feel very little sympathy for the woman whose daughter and husband were murdered, simply because her character was hardly fleshed out. Way too much focus was put on characters that, though entertaining and interesting, could easily have retreated to the background while still being worthwhile to include - particularly Maggie Bloom and the priest.
I was also pretty annoyed that The Twist of the book seems to impact everyone besides Mrs. Nealon. Far be it from me to dance around the issue of whether or not to include a spoiler here - as a Jodi fan, I definitely know better. Suffice it to say - once you know what the twist is, especially if you've ever had a child you've loved, you may also think it was just too 'easy' that her reaction seemed like such an afterthought.
That all being said, there were some positives. As a bookseller, I've gotten to a point where, if I see one more book called or 'the Mona Lisa Lexicon' or 'the Codex Conspiracy' or 'the Templar Legacy' (wait, I think that's a real one) or any other book trying to steal the thunder of the DaVinci code in all its trite glory, I will just cry. So when this book seemed to head in that territory, I very nearly stopped reading. But in the end, Jodi gave that genre a nice little ironic kick in the butt, and for that it earned 2 stars alone. The 3rd star is because, somehow, at the end of any Jodi novel, no matter how blah, I still have goosebumps for a good 20 minutes after putting it down.
See my review of Nineteen Minutes to know that I bow to Jodi at her best, but unfortunately, this was just not it. Better than Salem Falls, but no Plain Truth or My Sister's Keeper. In any case, keep an open mind and enjoy! I'm anxious to hear what others think...
on March 4, 2008
Jodi Picoult's fifteenth novel is set around an angel-like death row inmate with a profound desire to donate his heart to the sister of his victim. The challenge? Lethal injection would render the organ useless. The inmate starts performing miracles from prison (turning water into wine, reviving a dead pet, healing terminal illness) and media quickly labels him the next Messiah. Admirers start congregating outside the prison campus. A national dialog opens, and the mother of a dying child must ask herself if she can put away her hatred to accept the donated heart of her deceased child's killer.
Change of Heart, like other Jodi Picoult novels, is told in brief chapters from over a dozen points of view. She tackles a new moral dilemma - the death penalty - complete with a true crime shock factor, courtroom drama, tension-filled romance, and an incredible twist at the end. Picoult has done her research and also introduces the Gnostic texts - namely the Gospel of Thomas, disregarded as the Church as heresy when it was discovered and published in 1975 - as a key plot element. The work comprises 114 sayings attributed to Jesus. Picoult artfully portrays her death row inmate, Shay Bourne, as a man eerily similar to that described in the Gospel of Thomas.
Picoult succeeds at creating a general outline of Shay Bourne as a religious figure via a number of inventive modern-day twists on New Testament writings. Once she created the setting of a religious novel, however, she used miracles to escape plot holes willy nilly. How does the heart of a 30 year-old man possibly match that of a teen girl? Oh, it's a miracle. The same priest who convicted Shay as a jury member is assigned as his spiritual advisor? Miraculous coincidence. Let's not even mention that the entire plot twist which makes our convicted murder a martyr is (a) exploitative of child abuse as a hot button issue and (b) flimsily based upon the defendant just "not mentioning" most of the story surrounding the murder of his victims during his first trial.
In other novels, the author has balanced the stronger elements of her formula against the weaker ones. My Sister's Keeper had a touching, tension-filled romance that helped carry the book, for example. In Change of Heart, the romance is weakly developed, one-dimensional, and requires a stereotypical over-stressed, weight-watching, desperate female character. The courtroom drama is for pure literary effect - fans of legal thrillers will instantly notice that lawyers seem not to have consulted their clients at all before throwing them on the stand and that arguments are occasionally based on legally irrelevant but passion-fueled aspects of the moral dilemma at hand.
So how can I give this book four stars? Easy. If you picked up a Jodi Picoult novel, you know what elements to expect. You've accepted that you'll have to suspend belief during the legal proceedings. In Change of Heart, she succeeds with some great flourishes re-casting the son of God in the modern day. She's provides a powerful look inside the death penalty which is sure to inspire valuable dialog among readers. I learned a thing or two about religious texts, inspiring me to do some additional research on my own after finishing the book. I'm giving my copy of the book to a friend who might enjoy it.
In a recent interview, Jodi Picoult stated that she is at work at a new novel about a wrongful birth suit in which a mother sues her obstetrician for not disclosing that her child would be severely impaired.
on March 10, 2008
I first became a fan of Picoult's after reading My Sister's Keeper on a friend's recommendation 3 years ago. Like most, I cried my eyes out reading the last 30 or so pages of the book and was hooked after that point. I've since read most of Picoult's 15-book library, most recently this book, Change of Heart. While I was excited for a new book of hers, I still haven't found another one that moved me like My Sister's Keeper yet. From reading the book jacket, I was hoping this one would come close. Unfortunately, it didn't even compare. While the story was told in the same manner as My Sister's Keeper (each "chapter" was a different character's voice) and made it a quick read (460 pages that I finished over the course of a weekend), it was much too predictable. I guessed what the "twist" in the plot was about 25 pages into the book (and my guess was confirmed around page 400) and found it so closely mirroring the storyline of Stephen King's "The Green Mile" that I was almost embarrassed for Picoult's lack of originality). While this book's main character is supposedly a Messiah and King's death row inmate was just supposed to be supernatural, without any sort of religious affiliation, the similarities will be clearly apparent to anyone that's seen the movie or read the book (one of the glaring similarities includes bringing a fellow inmate's dead pet back to life; a bird in this book, a mouse in King's). Despite these things, I still couldn't put the book down since it was such a quick and easy read, it was entertaining enough, and Picoult is an extremely gifted writer, even if her originality is lacking. I must agree with some of the other reviews in that Picoult does not develop a few of the key characters enough, particularly the mother/wife of the victims, June Nealon, and I found that the story line suffered because of it. One of the things that draws me to her books is her intricate character development that takes the reader into the mind and body of that character and makes them a part of the story. I felt that Lucius' character didn't add much in the way of plot development and didn't need to be focused on as much as he was.
One thing that I always appreciate about Picoult's books is the extensive research she does as she's writing them. Because of this I can appreciate the laws, doctrines, gospels, etc. that she speaks of in her novels and know that she's done her fact-finding and not making up laws to suit her story. Her legal and religious research is apparent throughout the book and I found it to be a good learning experience.
A warning - this book heavily involves religious doctrine, the Bible (both Old and New Testaments), unpublished Gospels of the New Testament. While I am not at all religious and can't count on one hand the number of times I've been in church in my life so I found no issues reading this book and was not offended in any way as I'm quite open to other belief systems, others may be quite sensitive to the ideas presented. Picoult treads a very thin line with several characters including the Priest who is in the midst of a moral and religious crisis, a reformed atheist, an outlandish televangelist, and the ACLU lawyer who was raised Jewish, but considers herself Agnostic and is fighting on behalf of the death row inmate, Shay who many believe is the second coming of Christ.
Overall, it's an entertaining book, but don't bother spending the money on it. Borrow it from a library, wait until it's available on paperback, or borrow it from another Picoult fan that bought it with high hopes on the first day it was released (me!).
on March 10, 2008
A mysterious double murder. A death-row inmate who can bring other inmate's small pets back to life. I think I already read this. No, wait! That was The Green Mile by Stephen King.
I LOVE Picoult and am always ready to pounce when a new book comes out, but I think she needs to slow down and work on quality not quantity.
After reading the first 80 pages, I realized I was reading the Picoult version of "The Green Mile". When Kaavya Viswanathan's book ""How Opal Mehta Got Kissed, Got Wild, and Got a Life" was accused of plagiarizing Megan F. McCafferty--the 2001 novel "Sloppy Firsts" and the 2003 novel "Second Helpings" which included taking a sentence out of one book, her book was pulled off the shelves and destroyed. When Picoult rewrites King's The Green Mile, only with only subtle changes, her book becomes a Best Seller! "In Change of Heart", King's the dead mouse in is now a dead robin which is resurrected: King's Warden's deathly ill wife is Picoult's Inmate with AIDS in the next cell, who is miraculously cured; I ask why isn't anyone calling her on it? There are other miracles too which mimic Christ. Water is turned into wine. So we are to question the value of each person, so what if the main character killed a police officer and a little girl in a brutal crime, he has some terrific qualities, do we really want to give him a lethal injection? I found the parallels insulting. Having been a victim of violent crime including a witness of the murder of a significant person in my life; I find the plot very manipulative in favor of abolishing the Death Penalty and I am against Capital Punishment! I wonder why she didn't become a defense lawyer instead of a writer? Regardless, I guess no one is going to call her on the similarities of her book to King's, perhaps she just is too untouchable, after all she has a lot of good books under her belt, right? Maybe copying someone work is considered a form of flattery but I am very disappointed. I really like Picoult's stories for their originality, unfortunately, you won't find that here. Although she has so many people assisting her, I am wondering how neither she nor her cadre of researchers and assistants never saw this well known book and subsequent movie? Didn't the publisher notice the plot rehash?
My suggestion, go grab Stephen King's book or rent the movie. I like the characters better.
on November 5, 2014
Plot: a man kills a pregnant woman's husband and seven year old child. He is sentenced to death and wants to donate his heart to the daughter of the woman whose life he destroyed. Here is what I expected from the book: a story about forgiveness and redemption. Here's what I actually got: a story about supposed miracles the guy on death row is responsible for, endless conversations on whether this guy is Jesus and political commentary on whether the death penalty is right or wrong. I am a nonbeliever so eventually I just skimmed the pages on religion. I felt like the storyline of whether this guy is actually Jesus was just preposterous. And the lawyer, Maggie was such a die hard liberal that even I got annoyed. There was hardly any talk about forgiveness and I wanted more scenes between June and Shay. He killed her family, for crying out loud and no body even mentioned that part of it. If I had known how political and religious this book was, I wouldn't have bothered. Every character annoyed me and every character was so self-righteous. And don't get me started on the "twist" at the end. Hated it. It was all I could do to finish this book.
on March 9, 2008
Jodi Picoult is a fine writer, who seems to have found a formula that works for her. Her books always involve some life altering event, usually a death, where the victim or victimizer hides a secret until the final three pages of the book. There is usually a lawsuit of some kind, a semi-happy marriage, and children. "My Sister's Keeper" is her finest work, but only because the pattern was fresh at the time. With "Change of Heart," Picoult's ingenuity has begun to flag. She seems more intent in powering us through the novel, and making sure that she crams in all the usual aspects of her plots so that she could release a book within a year and a half of the last one.
The problem is that she also seems to have taken a few pages from a couple of other prolific writers. The plot of this story- a deathrow inmate with messiah like qualities-is so similar to that of Stephen King's "The Green Mile" that I often found myself picturing the protagonist as Michael Clarke Duncan. She does make a few references to King's other work, specifically "The Stand" and "The Shawshank Redemption" so that it seems more like an homage and less like a rip-off. And she certainly does not plagiarize any of King's writing. However, it still seems lazy. As does the character of Maggie, who seems to have stepped out of a Jennifer Weiner book and fallen into the wrong story by accident. Again, there are enough references that it seems to be another homage.
Picoult's only truly original character, the Catholic priest, has the most compelling backstory, and the least interesting part of the plotline. I wish that Picoult had stepped away from the sensational part of her story and devoted more time to creating believable and engaging characters. She has a gift at creating interesting relationships between both parents and children and man and woman, as readers have seen in "My Sister's Keeper", "Nineteen Minutes", and "The 10th Circle." I wish that she realized that could sell books just as well as the "Twist" she has become so known for.
on August 21, 2011
I try to follow the "if you can't say something nice, don't say anything at all" rule about book reviews. The thing is, to me, this book wasn't just bad; it was shallow and manipulative, and it angered me that a clearly talented author like Jodi Picoult chose to publish a book that is an example of the worst kind of emotional manipulation. Under the guise of challenging modern notions of faith, redemption, and justice, "Change of Heart" fails to deliver anything more than the emotional equivalent of pornography: a series of exotic moral dilemmas woven together by a frail narrative structure.
Picoult's premise has been thoroughly blasted by other reviewers here (a sad mash-up of "The Green Mile" and "The DaVinci Code" with a splash of John Grisham -- all of whom she at least has the courtesy of mentioning in the book). I also echo the reviewers who have criticized the irredeemably shallow characters, forced and manufactured conflict, the desperate pleas on the part of the author ("Look how CONFLICTED this character is! Look how PARADOXICAL the situation is!"), and half-hearted attempt to be intellectually provocative regarding the subjects of religion and capital punishment. It all adds up to a book lacking direction, empathy, and clarity of theme.
"Change of Heart" reminded me of a politician who makes a brash assertion that doesn't stand up to media scrutiny: instead of fessing up and saying, "You got me," the politician doubles down and tries to force the assertion to be legitimate through sheer persistent repetition. Picoult got her hands on a seemingly fertile premise that mesmerizes star-gazing teenagers ("WHAT IF... the only person who could SAVE your life is the person who RUINED your life?"), but whenever the ludicrous nature of the situation rears its ugly head, Picoult simply drowns the reader in more sad imagery (a woman who dies on her fiftieth anniversary -- gasp! -- a brother and sister reunited after heart-wrenching separation -- tear!).
If the premise intrigues you, skip this appetizer sampler and just check out King's "The Green Mile" and Brown's "The DaVinci Code." Those works, while themselves not perfect, at least have an identity unto themselves. Do not, under any circumstances, buy this book.
on March 8, 2008
I was very excited to read this book and brought it home without even reading the inside cover. The plot was sound, the writing typical Picoult, but I had the "twist" figured out by page 12. Seriously. And I spent the rest of the book hoping that I was wrong.
Alas.. no. I don't know if I've just read too many of her books, it was a lucky guess, or if this was transparent to other readers, but it was disappointing. I do love the characters and the different points of view, and there were certainly plenty of "side trips" to keep me entertained along the way, but I don't fee that this book was on par with most of her others.
on March 24, 2008
Ms. Picoult may be a talented writer. In fact,'My Sister's Keeper" was a beautifully made book. But she seems to have gotten herself on a toboggan with a formula that's far too slick and now a bit disturbing. It must include violence toward a child. preferably with an unusual death, a little hoodoo, a little love mess, a courtroom scene with far outdated Perry Mason ovetones and a "twist" ending that is anything but, since you can spot it a mile off. In this book, she also reduces a mother'd grief to an absurdity. Ms. Picoult, take a year off and re-charge your batteries.