Change of Heart: A Novel

Change of Heart: A Novel

by Jodi Picoult

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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781501102431
Publisher: Pocket Books
Publication date: 11/28/2017
Edition description: Reprint
Pages: 624
Sales rank: 181,815
Product dimensions: 4.10(w) x 6.70(h) x 1.40(d)

About the Author

Jodi Picoult received an AB in creative writing from Princeton and a master’s degree in education from Harvard. The recipient of the 2003 New England Book Award for her entire body of work, she is the author of twenty-six novels, including the #1 New York Times bestsellers House Rules, Handle With Care, Change of Heart, and My Sister’s Keeper, for which she received the American Library Association’s Margaret Alexander Edwards Award. She lives in New Hampshire with her husband and three children. Visit her website at


Hanover, New Hampshire

Date of Birth:

May 19, 1966

Place of Birth:

Nesconset, Long Island, NY


A.B. in Creative Writing, Princeton University; M.A. in Education, Harvard University

Read an Excerpt

Change of Heart



Shay Bourne was nothing like I expected.

I had prepared myself for a hulking brute of a man, one with hammy fists and no neck and eyes narrowed into slits. This was, after all, the crime of the century—a double murder that had captured the attention of people from Nashua to Dixville Notch; a crime that seemed all the worse because of its victims: a little girl, and a police officer who happened to be her stepfather. It was the kind of crime that made you wonder if you were safe in your own house, if the people you trusted could turn on you at any moment—and maybe because of this, New Hampshire prosecutors sought the death penalty for the first time in fifty-eight years.

Given the media blitz, there was talk of whether twelve jurors who hadn’t formed a reaction to this crime could even be found, but they managed to locate us. They unearthed me in a study carrel at UNH, where I was writing a senior honors thesis in mathematics. I hadn’t had a decent meal in a month, much less read a newspaper—and so I was the perfect candidate for Shay Bourne’s capital murder case.

The first time we filed out of our holding pen—a small room in the superior courthouse that would begin to feel as familiar as my apartment—I thought maybe some bailiff had let us into the wrong courtroom. This defendant was small and delicately proportioned—the kind of guy who grew up being the punch line to high school jokes. He wore a tweed jacket that swallowed him whole, and the knot of his necktie squared away from him at the perpendicular, as if it were being magnetically repelled. His cuffed hands curled in his lap like small animals; his hair was shaved nearly to the skull. He stared down at his lap, even when the judge spoke his name and it hissed through the room like steam from a radiator.

The judge and the lawyers were taking care of housekeeping details when the fly came in. I noticed this for two reasons: in March, you don’t see many flies in New Hampshire, and I wondered how you went about swatting one away from you when you were handcuffed and chained at the waist. Shay Bourne stared at the insect when it paused on the legal pad in front of him, and then in a jangle of metal, he raised his bound hands and crashed them down on the table to kill it.

Or so I thought, until he turned his palms upward, his fingers opened one petal at a time, and the insect went zipping off to bother someone else.

In that instant, he glanced at me, and I realized two things:

1. He was terrified.

2. He was approximately the same age that I was.

This double murderer, this monster, looked like the water polo team captain who had sat next to me in an economics seminar last semester. He resembled the deliveryman from the pizza place that had a thin crust, the kind I liked. He even reminded me of the boy I’d seen walking in the snow on my way to court, the one I’d rolled down my window for and asked if he wanted a ride. In other words, he didn’t look the way I figured a killer would look, if I ever ran across one. He could have been any other kid in his twenties. He could have been me.

Except for the fact that he was ten feet away, chained at the wrists and ankles. And it was my job to decide whether or not he deserved to live.

* * *

A month later, I could tell you that serving on a jury is nothing like you see on TV. There was a lot of being paraded back and forth between the courtroom and the jury room; there was bad food from a local deli for lunch; there were lawyers who liked to hear themselves talk, and trust me, the DAs were never as hot as the girl on Law & Order: SVU. Even after four weeks, coming into this courtroom felt like landing in a foreign country without a guidebook . . . and yet, I couldn’t plead ignorant just because I was a tourist. I was expected to speak the language fluently.

Part one of the trial was finished: we had convicted Bourne. The prosecution presented a mountain of evidence proving Kurt Nealon had been shot in the line of duty, attempting to arrest Shay Bourne after he’d found him with his stepdaughter, her underwear in Bourne’s pocket. June Nealon had come home from her OB appointment to find her husband and daughter dead. The feeble argument offered up by the defense—that Kurt had misunderstood a verbally paralyzed Bourne; that the gun had gone off by accident—didn’t hold a candle to the overwhelming evidence presented by the prosecution. Even worse, Bourne never took the stand on his own behalf—which could have been because of his poor language skills . . . or because he was not only guilty as sin but such a wild card that his own attorneys didn’t trust him.

We were now nearly finished with part two of the trial—the sentencing phase—or in other words, the part that separated this trial from every other criminal murder trial for the past half century in New Hampshire. Now that we knew Bourne had committed the crime, did he deserve the death penalty?

This part was a little like a Reader’s Digest condensed version of the first one. The prosecution gave a recap of evidence presented during the criminal trial; and then the defense got a chance to garner sympathy for a murderer. We learned that Bourne had been bounced around the foster care system. That when he was sixteen, he set a fire in his foster home and spent two years in a juvenile detention facility. He had untreated bipolar disorder, central auditory processing disorder, an inability to deal with sensory overload, and difficulties with reading, writing, and language skills.

We heard all this from witnesses, though. Once again, Shay Bourne never took the stand to beg us for mercy.

Now, during closing arguments, I watched the prosecutor smooth down his striped tie and walk forward. One big difference between a regular trial and the sentencing phase of a capital punishment trial is who gets the last word in edgewise. I didn’t know this myself, but Maureen—a really sweet older juror I was crushing on, in a wish-you-were-my-grandma kind of way—didn’t miss a single Law & Order episode, and had practically earned her JD via Barcalounger as a result. In most trials, when it was time for closing arguments, the prosecution spoke last . . . so that whatever they said was still buzzing in your head when you went back to the jury room to deliberate. In a capital punishment sentencing phase, though, the prosecution went first, and then the defense got that final chance to change your mind.

Because, after all, it really was a matter of life or death.

He stopped in front of the jury box. “It’s been fifty-eight years in the history of the state of New Hampshire since a member of my office has had to ask a jury to make a decision as difficult and as serious as the one you twelve citizens are going to have to make. This is not a decision that any of us takes lightly, but it is a decision that the facts in this case merit, and it is a decision that must be made in order to do justice to the memories of Kurt Nealon and Elizabeth Nealon, whose lives were taken in such a tragic and despicable manner.”

He took a huge, eleven-by-fourteen photo of Elizabeth Nealon and held it up right in front of me. Elizabeth had been one of those little girls who seem to be made out of something lighter than flesh, with their filly legs and their moonlight hair; the ones you think would float off the jungle gym if not for the weight of their sneakers. But this photo had been taken after she was shot. Blood splattered her face and matted her hair; her eyes were still wide open. Her dress, hiked up when she had fallen, showed that she was naked from the waist down. “Elizabeth Nealon will never learn how to do long division, or how to ride a horse, or do a back handspring. She’ll never go to sleepaway camp or her junior prom or high school graduation. She’ll never try on her first pair of high heels or experience her first kiss. She’ll never bring a boy home to meet her mother; she’ll never be walked down a wedding aisle by her stepfather; she’ll never get to know her sister, Claire. She will miss all of these moments, and a thousand more—not because of a tragedy like a car accident or childhood leukemia—but because Shay Bourne made the decision that she didn’t deserve any of these things.”

He then took another photo out from behind Elizabeth’s and held it up. Kurt Nealon had been shot in the stomach. His blue uniform shirt was purpled with his blood, and Elizabeth’s. During the trial we’d heard that when the paramedics reached him, he wouldn’t let go of Elizabeth, even as he was bleeding out. “Shay Bourne didn’t stop at ending Elizabeth’s life. He took Kurt Nealon’s life, as well. And he didn’t just take away Claire’s father and June’s husband—he took away Officer Kurt Nealon of the Lynley Police. He took away the coach of the Grafton County championship Little League team. He took away the founder of Bike Safety Day at Lynley Elementary School. Shay Bourne took away a public servant who, at the time of his death, was not just protecting his daughter . . . but protecting a citizen, and a community. A community that includes each and every one of you.”

The prosecutor placed the photos facedown on the table. “There’s a reason that New Hampshire hasn’t used the death penalty for fifty-eight years, ladies and gentlemen. That’s because, in spite of the many cases that come through our doors, we hadn’t seen one that merited that sentence. However, by the same token, there’s a reason why the good people of this state have reserved the option to use the death penalty . . . instead of overturning the capital punishment statute, as so many other states have done. And that reason is sitting in this courtroom today.”

My gaze followed the prosecutor’s, coming to rest on Shay Bourne. “If any case in the past fifty-eight years has ever cried out for the ultimate punishment to be imposed,” the attorney said, “this is it.”

* * *

College is a bubble. You enter it for four years and forget there is a real world outside of your paper deadlines and midterm exams and beer-pong championships. You don’t read the newspaper—you read textbooks. You don’t watch the news—you watch Letterman. But even so, bits and snatches of the universe manage to leak in: a mother who locked her children in a car and let it roll into a lake to drown them; an estranged husband who shot his wife in front of their kids; a serial rapist who kept a teenager tied up in a basement for a month before he slit her throat. The murders of Kurt and Elizabeth Nealon were horrible, sure—but were the others any less horrible?

Shay Bourne’s attorney stood up. “You’ve found my client guilty of two counts of capital murder, and he’s not contesting that. We accept your verdict; we respect your verdict. At this point in time, however, the state is asking you to wrap up this case—one that involves the death of two people—by taking the life of a third person.”

I felt a bead of sweat run down the valley between my shoulder blades.

“You’re not going to make anyone safer by killing Shay Bourne. Even if you decide not to execute him, he’s not going anywhere. He’ll be serving two life sentences without parole.” He put his hand on Bourne’s shoulder. “You’ve heard about Shay Bourne’s childhood. Where was he supposed to learn what all the rest of you had a chance to learn from your families? Where was he supposed to learn right from wrong, good from bad? For that matter, where was he even supposed to learn his colors and his numbers? Who was supposed to read him bedtime stories, like Elizabeth Nealon’s parents had?”

The attorney walked toward us. “You’ve heard that Shay Bourne has bipolar disorder, which was going untreated. You heard that he suffers from learning disabilities, so tasks that are simple for us become unbelievably frustrating for him. You’ve heard how hard it is for him to communicate his thoughts. These all contributed to Shay making poor choices—which you agreed with, beyond a reasonable doubt.” He looked at each of us in turn. “Shay Bourne made poor choices,” the attorney said. “But don’t compound that by making one of your own.”

Reading Group Guide

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In her fifteen novels, Jodi Picoult delves deep into the most troubling contemporary social issues, writing fiction that the New York Daily News calls "intelligent, often moving, and always ripe for book club discussion." In Change of Heart, she examines a convicted killer on death row, Shay Bourne, who has taken the lives of Officer Kurt Nealon and his young stepdaughter, Elizabeth. When Shay discovers that his victim's living daughter, Claire, is desperately in need of a heart transplant, he sees his only chance for salvation. Standing in his way, however, is the law and a mother filled with anger and revenge. On his side are some unexpected allies — a Catholic priest who had a hand in Shay's sentencing; an ambitious attorney who, despite her deep convictions against capital punishment is determined to see Shay die on his own terms; and a community who sees something in Shay that gives them hope. Picoult expertly intersects matters of the state and matters of the spirit to probe questions about the meaning of salvation and who has the power to determine the fate of the soul.


1. The author uses several famous quotations from some of the greatest thinkers in history, including Lewis Carroll, Voltaire, Woody Allen, Mother Teresa, Mark Twain, the Dalai Lama, Bono, Friedrich Nietzsche, and Albert Einstein. What effect do these philosophical tidbits have on the telling of this story? Which one resonated most with you?

2. Discuss the theme of belief in this novel. What does Shay believe, and who believes in him? Apply this same question to Maggie, Michael, and June. Did this story call any of their beliefs intoquestion? Which ones?

3. When Shay is moved to the I-tier, some very strange things start happening — water turns to wine, Calloway's pet robin is brought back to life, a tiny piece of gum becomes enough for all to share. Some call these miracles while others call them hijinks. What do you make of these incidents? Were you convinced that Shay had divine powers, and if so, at what point did you make that conclusion?

4. Michael tells Maggie that "there's a big difference between mercy and salvation" (142). What is that difference? Which characters are pursuing mercy and which are pursuing salvation? Which, do you think, is granted in the end for each of the main characters?

5. Having lost a daughter and two husbands, June's life is fraught with grief. How do you see that grief shaping her character and informing the choices that she makes? Do you think she makes choices in order to reconcile the past or in hopes of a better future?

6. How do the three religions referenced in this book (Judaism, Christianity, Gnosticism) imagine the presence or reappearance of the divine? Compare Michael's vision on p. 71 with Rabbi Bloom's explanation of the Jewish Midrash on p. 96 and Shay's depiction of heaven on p.106.

7. Consider the passage on p.165 where Maggie thinks "the penitentiary [Shay] was referring to was his own body." In what ways are some of the other characters in this book (Claire, Maggie, Lucius) imprisoned by their bodies?

8. Discuss June's questions on p. 184: "Would you give up your vengeance against someone you hate if it meant saving someone you love? Would you want your dreams to come true if it meant granting your enemy's dying wish?" How do the characters answer this question?

9. June thinks that if Claire accepted a heart transplant from Shay Bourne and had to absorb the emotional pain of her father's and sister's murders, it would be "better to have no heart at all" (238). This statement eerily echoes Shay's own statement to June that her first daughter, Elizabeth, "was better off dead." How do you feel about the adults in this novel making such grave choices over the life of a child? Do you feel like they are being protective or presumptuous?

10. Why do you think Shay never puts up a real fight for his innocence? Do you believe he is resigned to his fate or is an active participant in choosing it? Has he made the ultimate sacrifice or is he just trying to make the most out of circumstances beyond his control?

11. Does Change of Heart have a hero? If so, who is it?

12. In Change of Heart, religion seems at times to bring characters together and at others to drive a wedge between them. Ultimately, do you think religion unites people or divides them?


1. Go to to see what your state laws are regarding capital punishment. Discuss the statistics you find there.

2. You can write letters to inmates on death row by contacting Death Row Support Project, PO Box 600, Liberty Mills, IN 46946.

3. Save the money you'd normally spend on wine or food at your next book club meeting. Instead, help sick kids like Claire by donating to a children's hospital or research fund.

4. Watch a video and listen to Jodi Picoult talk about Change of Heart at

Customer Reviews

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Change of Heart 4 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 566 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Ms. Picoult knows how to pick them. She takes a topic and truly makes you think. I wished at times to have Shay's perspective but then this book probably wouldn't have been so powerful. The different view points got a lot across and I was so enthralled with this book. It tested the limits of even my beliefs but I realized that is what she wanted to do. She wants to make you think about where you are and have you come to your own conclusion. She never says what is right or wrong and that's why I come back to this author time and again. Maggie had to deal with the faith she had and a client who really didn't want help. He had things figured out just wanted to go through with them. Father Michael say things that even he wasn't sure were happening. Lucius, the cell mate next to Shay, was shocked by all that he saw. June doing her best to deal with the deaths of her loved ones wasn't sure she could accept the one thing that could keep her life going. This is one book that will keep you turning pages from every point of view. It does test boundaries but like every other book I have read by her truly makes you think. This is definitely going on my list of favorites for just how open she is with all sides of the issue. I can say I am not for the death penalty but I can see in which instances it might be the only way. Ms. Picoult really does her work and it shows on each and every page.
Mickfin More than 1 year ago
I LOVED this book. It kept me reading and intrigued. I love the fact that the story is told from each persons perspective. It really makes you stop and think. I had trouble relating to the mom though. As a mom myself, I would have done it in a heart beat. No pun intended.
Bellella121327 More than 1 year ago
I enjoyed this book so first by Jodi Picoult, I cannot wait to read more by her, I love a great storyteller and she is that!!!..I don't understand the bad reviews but i guess to each his own..I'm adding Jodi to my fave author list, cant wait to read more by her..! It was a great story kept me wanting to find out what next..! Great book, in my opinion..!
CaveGirl More than 1 year ago
A must read for anyone and everyone. Definitely makes you think and see all sides to the situation. One of my favorite Jodi books.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Not her best book- I have read mostly all of her books and was put off by this one. Didnt keep my attention vs. her other novels where I was able to relate more throughout the entire book.
pocketrob More than 1 year ago
Worth reading if you like her other stuff. Heavy on the religion but not preachy. Not a terribly surprising ending, but good. Worth the time. *SPOILERS* Jodi sure does have a thing for transplants.
Sara26SR More than 1 year ago
No matter what the subject of her books, Jodi Picoult has a definite way making her characters come alive. Good Read.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
My favorite of her books! Really makes you think.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Such a great read.....I love her writting!!!! Couldnt put it down...was hooked frim the first sentence
SBum More than 1 year ago
Anything by Jodi Picoult is a must read but Change of Heart is by far my favorite of hers. I highly recommend!!!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Amazing,picoult continues to write real life fictionin ways most can not.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
At first i was hesitant to buy it because some people said it dragged, but when i read this book, i fell in love!!! Its a really good book and if you are thinking about buying it, dont wait any longer because you wont regret it!!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Couldnt put it down......
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This book was great.. Couldn't put it down
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Great read it in a book club and couldnt put it down!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Im now hooked on jodi picoults books after first reading my sisters keeper then change of heart! Excellent ethical topics in both books!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I've read several Jodi Picoult books over the years, and generally enjoy her approach of using several different viewpoints to tackle controversial subjects. While the novel did borrow heavily from Stephen King's "The Green Mile" and was filled with the standard Picoult preachiness at times, I did still find it enjoyable, thought-provoking, and, bottom line for rating purposes--a page turner. I do have one criticism in that many times the various narrators would describe Shay as someone who could not seem to string together two coherent sentences, but then when dialogue is provided of him talking to them, this does not appear to be the case at all. Sometimes in the story Picoult shows him rapidly jumping from one subject or thought to another (usually to illustrate the narrator's just made comment that he can't string sentences together), but more often than not he speaks in completely coherent paragraphs staying on the same subject matter. There were a lot of sub-stories going on in each of the narrator's personal lives, which added additional interest, and not all seemed to be resolved, but isn't that like real life? Comparing it to some of her other books, I would say it is not on par with Nineteen Minutes but head and shoulders above The Tenth Circle. A good and worthy read overall.
Humbee More than 1 year ago
I have to preface this review by saying that I love Jodi Picoult's books! I'm a belated, but staunch supporter of her books and writing style, although after several of them, I'm starting to see the formula raising its hairy eyeballs. And, that's saddens me because I suspect she's smarter and better than that. Nevertheless, of her books so far, this is my least's "The Green Mile," on cold syrup. A young man (a carpenter, no less) is accused, convicted and sent to death row for the rape and murder of a child, and murder of her step-father. As appeals and time leads up to his actual execution, he is shown to be a Saviour figure to the death row inmates, the media, jail staff and the community. He mysteriously calms the hearts and minds of fellow death row companions, heals them and hands off a miracle or two with few words, and humility. His main goal is to give his heart away. This, as I said, isn't one of my favorite Picoults. The plot runs too slow and wordy for my tastes. Religion really is not the problem's just a story a little too long in the tooth and a little too old hat. Ms. Picoult might do better with a creative idea that doesn't hang on a recent national event, national medical scrutiny, current national crime or an old movie. I know she's a wonderful writer...she's got the books and credentials to prove it. And I love her other books, so far! If you're out there, Jodi, please give us something more which is not taken and revamped. I know you can do it because I've read it. For instance: What's really up in New Hampshire? I used to live in Hanover, so, believe you me, I know there are some very tasty bits of interest up in that community that would make for some great storytelling! Just don't write about the tragic death of two professors and you'll be home free! Respectfully yours, Humbee
snowbird922 More than 1 year ago
This was the first book I read by Picoult and I will tell you I was truly disappointed not only did the story drag a bit but the feeling that I was reading "The Green Mile" was very strong and it at first gave me an instant distaste for the writer herself. I wound up enjoying the book half way through the middle and when I say enjoying it wasn't one of these books where you become attached it was just ok reading. I think the only thing that actually kept me interested was the different type of religious views being that it is one of the things I enjoy studying. However other than that I felt no attachment to the characters the story was predictable and the ending left me unsatisfied. I will try and read another of her books soon and hopefully it will not leave me with the same opinion of the writer that I have now.
eddirector More than 1 year ago
I think Jodi Picoult is one of the best authors I've found lately, and enjoy the way she can turn both a phrase and a plot. This book however, is much too predictable. The title gives away the ending, plain and simple, and takes the punch out of all the events leading up to it.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I've read all of Jodi Picoult's book. She is one of my favorite authors. I have to say I was disappointed with this one. Not much of a story of what actually happened in her househould and to close to the move Walking the Green Mile. I read it though because I kept thinking, it will get real any minute but it never did. Oh well, I'm sure they can't all be great.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I am addicted to Jodi Picoults books! Their like candy! Although her subjects are a little too far out, i still read her because she creates characters that you just cant get enough of, she doesn't drag out plots like cerian authors that i have read. In this new and provocative novel, it talks about the death penalty, and a guy on death row wants to donate his heart post execution, but the person who needs the heart is the sister of his victim.
harstan More than 1 year ago
Her spouse drove the vehicle with his wife June and their daughter Elizabeth inside when they were blindsided by a drunken driver her husband died in the crash. Kurt Nealson, the police officer who pulled the two females out of the wreckage, became a frequent visitor of the widow and her offspring and eventually he and June married. Seven moths pregnant June hires carpenter Shay Bourne to make some needed home repairs. He kills her second husband and Elizabeth. At his trial, he is convicted and sentenced to state execution, but never explains why he committed the homicides. Eleven years later Shay is on death row about to die as his appeals have run out. June¿s daughter Claire needs a heart transplant and Shay offers his as their hearts are compatible. On the day he arrives in Concord in the 1-tier Secure Housing Unit strange things happen to those around him. He brings a bird back to life and a man with AIDS is miraculously healed while a piece of bubblegum turns out to be enough for every inmate. His lawyer, who opposes the death penalty, works overtime to get Shay¿s conviction changed so that they can use his heart. Crowds gather outside the prison wondering outside if the Messiah has returned and if so why inside a murderer. --- Every book that Jodi Picoult writes seems to reach her audience on a primal level. There are things readers do not know about the homicides especially why Shay committed them or if he is a healer or a con artist. Readers want to believe he is the Messiah because there is something compelling about him in which those who know him insist he is not evil. The author evokes strong emotions and opinions from her fans as much as those displayed by Shay¿s lawyer, June and Claire. --- Harriet Klausner
indygo88 on LibraryThing 8 months ago
I felt that this was a pretty typical Jodi Picoult novel -- not my fave, not my least fave, but still very enjoyable. Her novels do tend to follow a pattern, after you've read a few, but regardless, I still enjoy each and every one (thus far, at least). As always, she chooses controversial topics and takes a fresh view of them & presents them to the reader in a way that tends to be very gripping. The thing about this one I really thought interesting was that Picoult overlapped a few characters from her novel "Keeping Faith", which happened to be the most recent of hers that I read & was fairly fresh in my memory, so it was interesting to see these characters taking a peek in this one.
sharlene_w on LibraryThing 8 months ago
Good storyline, interesting read. It was predictable, but my biggest complaint was the coincidences that tied the characters together. Examples: The priest who sat on Shay's jury and now is ministering to him in prison as he awaits the death penalty. The heart surgeon who conveniently hooks up with the attorney who represents Shay. I think writing in a couple more characters would have made a more believable story rather than using characters to cover more than one base--especially when there are multiple characters like this. I'm a Jodi Picoult fan though. She does come up with interesting plots.