Change of Heart is a densely packed book of difficult challenges and sticky ethical situations. The story is centered around June Nealon, a woman who lost her first husband, the father of her first child, to a horrible car accident. With a new police-officer husband, and a second child on the way, things seemed to be going well. Enter Shay Bourne, a shy handyman who showed up at June’s door offering to be of assistance. Just a few weeks later, June comes home to a murdered husband and daughter, with Shay holding a gun in his hand and her daughter’s panties in his pocket. Flash forward 11 years–Shay is on death row and June is dealing with her remaining child who needs a heart transplant. Shay Bourne is an exact match, and he wants to donate his heart to the little girl after he is executed for his crimes. All would seem ethically neat, except that wherever Shay goes miracles seem to follow. First there is the water on death row that suddenly turns to wine, then there is the healing of a warden’s child, and the raising of a bird back to life. Called in to help and advise Shay is Father Michael, a priest who is also searching for forgiveness, as he was the deciding vote on the jury that convicted and sentences Shay.
Change of Heart has room to study all of the virtues. Justice surfaces time and again as we discuss the question of Shay’s sentence, and the pain that June has endured. It also comes up as we learn the truth behind the death of June’s daughter and husband, and in the court as Shay fights to die on his own terms. We also discover Injustice when we experience Shay’s childhood, and the struggles that the peripheral characters have in this book. Faith also plays a strong role as the centerpiece in Shay’s legal battle, and as his lawyer, fellow inmates, and priest wrestle with the questions his ‘miracles’ raise. Fortitude is evidenced as Shay endures his sentence, and also as we see Father Michael put everything he has lived for on the line for the sake of redemption and forgiveness. June must also exercise Fortitude during her second daughter’s illness and as she chooses whether or not to forgive. Characters in this novel must continually exercise great Temperance and Prudence, and Agape love gets examined as you look at the ultimate sacrifice Shay wants to make.
Change of Heart lead to lively discussions on faith and justice as the RFL group wrestled with the virtues, or lack thereof, of capital punishment. We also examined the similarities and differences between virtuous faith and organized religion. It was difficult to deal with the choices and motives of the wounded and hurt June Nealon, and we tried to determine the virtues of her decision-making as she at first rejected, and then reconsidered, Shay’s offer of a heart for her daughter.