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Saturday, February 28, 2009

Change of Heart

Change of Heart
by Jodi Picoult
audio book (12 cassettes: 15.25 hours)

This is my book club's pick this month. The waiting list for this book at the library was about 30 people long so I ended up getting the cassettes since no one had them on hold.

I'm sure that I'm going to offend some people with this review and I'm sorry about that, but I well and truly hated this book. I debated whether or not to be completely honest in my review, whether to tone down my hatred, but I decided against it. Maybe if this had been a book sent to me by the author I could have held my tongue a bit better, but I'm not sure ...

*** The Plot ***

Shay Bourne is convicted of the murder of 7 year old Elizabeth and her police officer step-father, Kurt. June, Elizabeth's mother and Kurt's wife, is pregnant with baby Clare at the time of the murder. Shay is sentenced to death by lethal injection. Eleven years later, Shay's appeals have all been denied and his execution date is set. He's moved to a new part of the prison and suddenly strange, almost miraculous, things start happening (think The Green Mile, sort of).

In the 11 years since the trial, one of the jurors has become a Catholic priest and Clare has been diagnosed with a heart condition that requires a transplant. Fr. Michael becomes Shay's spiritual advisor and begins to think Shay has some special connection to God. Shay decides that he'd rather be hung than die by lethal injection, that way he can donate his heart to Clare. Shay's new lawyer works with Fr. Michael to try to make this happen. The story ends with the resolution of all these varied plot lines.

*** The Narrators ***

As with (most? all?) Picoult's books, the story is told from various points of view.
  • Fr. Michael - the former-juror-turned-priest who is against the death penalty
  • Lucius - the convicted murder who has AIDS and who is in the cell next to Shay's
  • June - mother and wife to Shay's murder victims, and mother to Elizabeth
  • Maggie - the ACLU attorney working on Shay's case
  • Clare - the heart patient (she gets one section at the very end)

*** What I Didn't Like ***

This is a long list but there was so much wrong with this book that I simply can't condense it. Some of my bullet points may include spoilers but I will clearly note that at the start of each bullet.

My first points are about the writing style. These alone would have made me dislike the book but not more so than any other poorly written novel.
  • All the characters are flat - they have no personality, no voice. When the point of view changes, Picoult leads off by stating the character's name then continuing the story. If she didn't do that, you'd have no idea who is telling the story. Open up to a random page in Barbara Kingsolver's THE POISONWOOD BIBLE and you can tell exactly which character is speaking simply by reading a few sentences - and she has 5 different narrators! The only reason I was able to keep Picolt's characters straight was that each was narrated by a different person.

  • Shay's character is supposed to have trouble speaking. He's described as having difficulty stringing words together to form complete sentences. However the readers only know that because Picoult TELLS us; when Shay is speaking, he sounds pretty normal. The only thing that comes across is that he sometimes rambles on about random topics, but even that doesn't happen often. It's like the author is saying "Shay has trouble speaking - just take my word for it, even if you can't tell when he does actually speak."

  • Big Spoiler Alert! Don't read this bullet point if you don't want to know the ending. ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
    When Shay is being hung the witnesses can "conveniently" see through the curtain above the platform but they just as "conveniently" can't see through the curtain below the platform. This may be a small thing but it really bugged me. Wouldn't the curtains both be made of the same material? It's a blatant plot device and doesn't make any sense except that it allows the author to let the reader see what she wants seen. Oh, and the use of the circus tent to cover the gallows was a bit of over-the-top symbolism too.
Now for the rest of what I didn't like about this book. This is the part where I can tell you why I truly hated it.
  • Minor spoiler alert! This doesn't give away anything huge though.
    After hearing about Shay's "miracles" Fr. Michael starts questioning his own faith. He goes so far as to believe (consider believing?) that Shay is God or Jesus. SERIOUSLY?! They guy is a priest - he's spent years in seminary and more years working in his parish - and you're telling me that he changes his entire belief system just like that?! This was so far beyond believable for me that it tainted my opinion of the rest of the book.

  • Then there's Maggie, the overweight Jewish atheist ACLU lawyer with a rabbi for a father. I don't think it is possible for her to be any more stereotypical. And she just happens to meet a gorgeous doctor (with a British accent no less) who loves her for who she is. Did I mention that this love story totally does not fit with the rest of the book? [In case you don't know, ACLU is the American Civil Liberties Union.]

  • And on the topic of the ACLU, the first case we see Maggie win is on behalf of a punk high school kid who decides he doesn't want to say the Pledge of Allegiance just to irritate his teacher. I'm sorry, but I don't see any reason to admire that "victory". It's not like the kid had some religious belief that was being violated - he was just being a punk, and his defiance of his teacher was rewarded. That is supposed to be a GOOD thing? *blech*

  • The thing that bothered me the most about this book is the fact that no one was allowed to have a firm belief in anything. I know it is politically correct to say "I believe this way but whatever you believe is right for you" however I don't know many people who ACTUALLY believe that way. All the people in this book do though. Fr. Michael questions his faith and decides that there are many truths. Maggie is pretty convinced there is no God but she doesn't remain firm all the time. Her rabbi father doesn't seem to mind that his daughter is an atheist, nor does he think Fr. Michael is all wrong either. *gah* Can't we please have a character who believes something and actually STICKS TO IT?!

  • You know a book is bad when you get to the very end and you should out loud "Oh come on! You have GOT to be kidding me!" That is exactly what I did at the end of the last cassette.
*** What I Did Like ***

There were only two things that I liked about this book, and they were minor plot points.
  • Maggie is talking to the doctor (before they are dating) and he says "I'm Christian." She thinks this is an odd statement but she replies by laying out her own religious beliefs. His reply? "No, I mean my NAME is Christian." ~LOL~

  • June is often with Clare in the hospital and at one point Clare is having surgery. The scene where June is with Clare in the operating room and Clare is being put under anesthesia is VERY accurate. I've been there with kiddo many times* and Picoult really got it right. Other than the fact that I didn't have to wear a surgical mask every other part of that scene was a direct reflection of my experience with kiddo.
*** The Book Club Problem ***

My book club is getting this Saturday morning to discuss this book and I'm dreading it. That's really the reason that I wrote such a long post; I wanted to clarify my thoughts before our meeting.

I know I'm not the only one who didn't like it (one gal didn't finish it because it was so bad, and at least one other hated it) but there are two gals who mentioned that it was getting better with every chapter. WHAT?!?! I can sense a big clash in the making ...

UPDATE: So, the meeting wasn't that bad after all. You can read all about it at my book club's blog.

*** Your Thoughts ***

Have any of you read this? If you have and you liked it, please forgive me for ranting so much. And after you forgive me, post a comment and tell me what you liked about this book. I promise not to jump all over you - I really want to know!

And as always I'm happy to post links to your reviews right here.

* Kiddo has multiple severe food allergies and also a rare condition known as Eosinophilic Esophagitis (EE). Because of his EE he has to have endoscopies done every few months. I think he's done 4 or 5 now and there are more planned in the coming year.


bermudaonion said...

I'm sorry you didn't like this book. It's been a while since I read it, but I do remember enjoying it. It's not my favorite Jodi Picoult book, but the plot did keep me interested.

Amy said...

I know you already know this, but I absolutely hated this book. Can I give a score lower than 0?

The whole thing annoyed me, and I too hated the lack of conviction of ANY of the characters. And the ending? I think I said, "Are you serious?" out loud in the car when I got to that part. I have never returned a book so quickly because I just wanted it out of my posession.

I have a sinus infection and don't know that I'm going to make it today, but I'm bummed about that because part of me really wants to hear how people could like this novel. For me, it had no redeeming qualities (haha! I crack myself up).

Katie said...

Yours is the first review I've read that disagrees with my own, but it's been awhile since I read it. I didn't give half as good or half as much detail to my review as you did, but I mostly commented on my thoughts about the issues in her book (Here it is if you're interested -

But a couple things - this is why I would like to join a book club! Because of the potential opposing views. I don't have many friends who read for fun and discuss issues of the book, but your review made me think of things in different perspectives, and isn't that really what it's all about?

Thanks for the review and good luck with your book club!


Jan Harayda said...

Hi, Heather,
Great (and maybe prophetic) post about Picoult. "Change of Heart" just made the shortlist for the Third Annual Delete Key Awards for the year's worst writing in books.

The names of the 10 finalists were posted Feb. 27 on One-Minute Book Reviews. Quotes from "Change of Heart" that support your comments were posted on Feb. 26.

Thanks so much for spelling out the problems with the novel, which too few people have done.

Anna said...

It definitely wasn't among the best books I read. It kept my attention, though I kept thinking of The Green Mile during the parts about Shay. (The movie, not the book because I never read the book.)

Diary of an Eccentric

Jen - devourer of books said...

I didn't like this book at all either, although you thought through much more carefully the reasons why. I think I was just too annoyed to think about it much by the time I finished it. I heard her new one is actually good, though, by someone else who didn't like this one either.

Amy said...

Well I guess if no one had any firm convictions, change of heart is an appropriate title, lol.

I don't really read her books, but there are a few I'd like to read at some point. This is not one of them.

Alison said...

I felt the same way about this book... it's just so incredibly unrealistic, especially coming from someone who has shown that she can turn out an amazing and plausible story. I was totally thinking Green Mile throughout and wondering why she couldn't have written, you know, her own story and not Stephen King's. I am still holding out hope for this year's novel, though...

christina said...

Oh gosh. I hated this book as well. And I really wanted to like it because overall I'm a big fan of Piccoult. Good for you and this honest post. Hope you get interesting conversations with your group.

Robin of My Two Blessings said...

I haven't read anything by Picoult yet. Her books just never seem to entice me. Happy you shared your review, so I know not to get this book. :)

Alyce said...

I'm sorry you didn't enjoy the book. I haven't read any of her books, so I can't really share an opinion.

I'm also sorry to hear that your son has had to go through so many medical procedures.

Bybee said...

I so hated My Sister's Keeper that I cringe when anyone even mentions reading a Picoult novel. I'm scared her stuff will start popping up in my book group as possible reading options.

Can we have an update on the meeting?

Dave said...

Heather, this should be a lively book club discussion -- especially if some members really liked it. Picoult will be giving a reading at Baltimore's Digital Harbor H.S. on the evening of March 10 (sponsored by the Inner Harbor B&N) -- if you go, just don't bring real bullets.

Plays with Needles said...

I don't think Jodi's books and writing style are my cup of tea. I've suffered through three of her books and am lukewarm about all of them. Just not me. I don't think I'd pick up another one if you paid me. OK, well, maybe if you paid me...

Kay said...

Heather, I appreciate you candor in your post. I haven't read this particular Jodi Picoult book, but I have read a few others. My favorite is THE PACT, probably because it was the first one of hers I read (teen suicide). However, I also read KEEPING FAITH and this reminds me of that one in small ways. I didn't care for it much. I did like MY SISTER'S KEEPER. For me, she is a maybe-I'll-like-it and maybe-I-won't author. Lots of ethical dilemmas in her books though and I think that is why they usually make good book club books.

Amanda said...

She's one of those authors that I just refuse to read. From everything I've read, her books sound like they go more for "shock" value or "ripped from the headlines" types of things. I just don't like those Lifetime channel types of books. Good review! I liked how you mentioned why you didn't like it.

Heather J. said...

Bermudaonion – it’s too bad you don’t remember what you liked … I’d really love to know!

Amy – I’m feeling pretty crappy myself. I posted a recap of the meeting at the book club’s blog … it ended up being not all bad, thankfully. :)

Katie – Thanks for the link! You’re right, this IS the best part of a book club. Why not start one of your own? That’s what I did. I’d be glad to help …
Jan – I’m glad I’m not the only one felt this way about this book.

Anna – exactly.

Devourer of books – that’s a big benefit of being in a book club, that I had to really think thru why I didn’t like this so I could defend my position at the meeting. And did I ever!

Amy – really, I don’t recommend it.

Alison – check out devourer of books’ comment above – maybe there’s hope …

Christina – thanks for the support!

Robin – yes, please avoid this one at all costs.

Alyce – Thanks for the kind words about kiddo. It’s not that bad, just a part of our life that we have to deal with. It could be much, much worse though, and I’m grateful for what we have.

Bybee – I posted an update at my book club’s blog – here’s the link - and if you didn’t like My Sister’s Keeper you should avoid this one like the plague

Dave – I saw the post on Read Street earlier and already passed it on to the gals. I wonder if any of them will go …

Plays with Needles – sorry, I’m not paying. :)

Kay – One of the gals in the club also mentioned that she enjoyed The Pact. But she agreed that this one pales in comparison. I agree that her books can provide good topics for discussion, but our group felt that with this book she really squandered the opportunity to make an impact.

Amanda – Yes, reading JP is very much like watching Lifetime Original Movie!

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