For her 15th novel, Change of Heart, prolific author Jodi Picoult had to dig deep into the controversial issue of capital punishment and the hazy history of Christianity's rejected gospels. The research process, on which Picoult prides herself, had her talking her way inside Arizona's death row, becoming pen pals with a man who murdered somebody by injecting him with battery acid, and examining the Gnostic Gospels that mainstream Christians labeled as heresy 2,000 years ago. These issues are integral to Picoult's complex plot. New Hampshire decides to put Shay Bourne to death—the first person to be executed in the state in 69 years—when Bourne announces he wants to donate his heart to his victim's sister, who needs a heart transplant. But lethal injection ruins internal organs, and the legal system doesn't know what to do. A priest steps in to convince Bourne that giving up his heart will not redeem him. Things get really complicated when the murderer begins performing miracles in prison. Picoult, author of the 2004 smash hit My Sister's Keeper, is an expert at humanizing uncommon and uncomfortable medical subject matter. With Change of Heart, she widens her scope to include questions about religion and revenge that have no easy answers, but are worth examining.
Fri., March 14, 7:30 p.m., 2008
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