June Nealon has sustained unbearable heartbreaks. Not only did she lose her first husband in a tragic accident, her second husband, Kirk, and young daughter, Elizabeth, were murdered while she was pregnant with her second daughter, Clare. Their murderer, Shay Bourne, became New Hampshire’s only condemned inmate in 69 years. Now eleven years old, Clare’s heart grows weaker and she will not survive unless she receives a heart transplant. With his execution date looming, Shay begins performing inexplicable feats from within his prison cell. And announces that when he is put to death, he wants to donate his heart to Clare. Shay claims that donating his heart to Clare is the only way he can earn the redemption that will otherwise elude him for eternity. But organ donation will be medically impossible if Shay is executed by lethal injection.
As Shay continues performing alleged miracles, causing many to question his true identity, a media frenzy grows. Public interest in the case is heightened when ACLU attorney Maggie Bloom becomes determined to find a legal mechanism that will allow for Shay to be executed by another means. Maggie’s motives are not entirely altruistic, at the outset. She sees Shay’s case an opportunity to put the death penalty itself on trial.
Father Michael Wright, a young local priest, is called to serve as Shay’s spiritual advisor. Initially strong in his convictions and beliefs — and determined to convince Shay that redemption has no relationship to organ donation — Father Michael is harboring a secret that could derail Maggie’s carefully constructed legal strategy and destroy the trusting relationship he has established with Shay. He was not just one of the jurors who convicted Shay and sentenced him to death. He was the last juror to vote in favor of condemning Shay.
As the legal battle rages, Shay continues performing miracles at the prison that are witnessed by officers, fellow inmates, and Father Michael himself. And quoting obscure Gnostic texts that were omitted from the Bible and an uneducated man with a troubled childhood would never have learned about. The media questions whether he is a messiah as June, Father Michael, and Maggie find themselves grappling with the beliefs and values about which they have been, until now, certain.
Review:How do we achieve redemption? What role does forgiveness play in the process? Are some acts simply too abhorrent to be forgiven? Who decides — individuals or society? How expansive might your capacity to forgive be if the life of your child were hanging in the balance? Those are just some of the moral dilemmas Jodi Picoult asks readers to ponder in Change of Heart.
Shay Bourne is not fighting to have his sentence overturned. On the contrary, he has accepted his fate. But he is determined to donate his heart to Clare, ostensibly as a means of atoning for murdering her father and sister. He is adamant that he will be unable to rest in peace unless he is permitted to do so. His seemingly miraculous acts — including bringing a dead bird back to life — lend credence to his sincerity and cause those around him to begin questioning everything they have ever believed about religion, faith, and the path to heaven.