I recently watched an interview with Jodi Picoult about her book, “Sing You Home” and her newest novel, “Lone Wolf”. I was very impressed at the amount of research she does for each book. There are few things that drives me more crazy than to be reading a book and find mistakes, either in the location, or descriptions about a particular activity. Kind of ruins the book for me, even though I know it’s fictional. The amount of research done for this book shows – you can’t make up some of this stuff, nor could you write about it with such believability, if extensive research had not been done. Reading “Change of Heart” takes you into a New Hampshire prison and how they deal with their first death row inmate in 69 years. The state has convicted Shay Bourne of two counts of murder, and while he’s spent 11 years on death row, the prison has had to build a “death house” to execute him in.
As I’ve said before about Jodi’s books, they each address a moral issue about which you probably feel you know exactly which side you stand on. Then, when you read the book, you are presented with both sides of the issue in such a believable fashion, one that allows you to at the least grasp at understanding the other side, if not connect with it on some level. In every book I’ve read by Jodi Picoult, I start out believing myself to be clear on whatever issue the book addresses, and the longer I read, the less sure I am, because you realize that for as much as you’d like for life to be black and white, it rarely is, but instead is multiple shades of gray between the two.
“Change of Heart” addresses the death penalty and organized religion. While there are financial issues to consider about executing a person versus a life sentence, how much more more it costs the state, and ultimately us as taxpayers, to finance the multiple appeals and such that are an inerrant part of a death sentence, there are the emotional costs to consider. While as a parent I believe that I could kill someone to protect my child if that was my only option, it’s a completely different thing to consider another person’s life, and deem it unworthy of continuing when you are separated from a split second decision fueled by adrenaline. And while sitting on a jury may afford you some space between the decision and the actuality of putting someone to death, what is the line between separating that person from the general population, and deciding to end their life? While I know that in the heat of the moment adrenaline may allow me to make that decision that ends another person’s life to protect one of my family, after more consideration, I’m not sure that I could willfully carry out a death sentence in another context.
As with most moral dilemmas, the death penalty usually isn’t a “I’m-apathetic-to-this-subject” type of discussion. Usually people have a strong opinion about whichever side they align themselves with. I can’t say that I’m completely on one side of the issue. That is one of the great things about reading a book like this – it makes you think, it makes you reevaluate where you stand, it gives you alternatives and options to consider. It’s hard to be close-minded about something when you are able to connect to both sides of the issue.
While each reader may come away from this book with a different thought or feeling about the death penalty, I doubt very much that you can read it and not reconsider your position on the issue, even if in the end you don’t change your mind.