A great book spoiler sent in by Wendy who says... "Fans of Picoult’s books will spot one of her trademark late plot-twists early on in the book, but there is still a surprise in the end, and the book is a true page turner for religious and atheist alike. "
Cast of Characters:
Shay Bourne A shy carpenter who can never quite say the right thing.
June Nealon a housewife who lost her first husband in a car accident, lost her second husband and her first daughter to murder at the hands of Shay Bourne, and is losing her second daughter to a heart condition
Father Michael A young priest who has felt called to the Lord ever since being the last juror to convict Shay Bourne of the two Nealon murders.
Maggie Bloom an atheist lawyer for the ACLU. She is the daughter of a rabbi and a spa owner who can never seem to get past her extra pounds or her mother’s criticism
Lucius DuFresne a man in the cell next to Shay’s. He is dying of AIDS, and is in jail for killing his lover after finding him with another man. He is also an artist
Claire Nealon an eleven year old girl waiting for a donor for a heart transplant
The book starts with June and her daughter Elizabeth surviving the car wreck that killed her first husband. The officer at the scene, Kurt Nealon, becomes a part of June’s life and she eventually marries him and he becomes a doting father to Elizabeth. A young carpenter named Shay comes to the aid of the Nealon family when the first contractor bailed on creating the family’s nursery for the new baby that is coming. Fast forward seven months, where a young man named Michael is narrating his story of serving on a jury to convict Shay Bourne of the murders of Elizabeth and Kurt Nealon. There was corroborating evidence that Shay was also molesting Elizabeth (her panties were found in his pocket, she wasn’t wearing any at the time of the shooting), but he was never convicted in a court of law. Shay does not testify, does not offer any defense. At first the jury is hung, but the images of a blood splattered 7 year old girl and a dead policeman eventually sway everyone towards a guilty verdict, even Michael. Shay is sentenced to death by lethal injection.
Fast forward again eleven years. Shay is moved to the New Hampshire State Prison in Concord. His neighbors are Lucius, Joey (a convicted pedophile), Reece (a member of the AB), Texas, Pogie, and Crash the leader and most outspoken of the prisoners. Lucius is struck by Shay because when Shay walks past him, he looks past Lucius’ scars and sores. On Shay’s first day, Lucius watches the news and hears about Claire Nealon, a local girl in desperate need of a heart transplant. Lucius hears Shay talking to himself, saying “Yes” and that he has to do it. In the middle of his first night there, Shay has a seizure. After being transferred out of the infirmary, Shay constantly yells for an audience with the warden, saying that he has got to give his heart to that little girl. After overhearing one of the guards say that his daughter is dying and the doctors can’t figure out what’s wrong with her, Shay tells the man to “Look inside.” Later that day, water comes out of all the I-tier’s faucets and toilets bright red and tasting just like Merlot. Scientists try to explain it, and can’t find any answers. The prison guard with the dying girl, meanwhile, has taken Shay’s words to heart and rips open his daughter’s teddy bear to find it stuffed with peanut shells. His daughter wasn’t sick, she was allergic and Shay has saved her life. The guard thanks him and brings him a brownie which makes him very popular with the inmates, who all offer to trade contraband with him. Reece, the prejudiced inmate, finds a robin’s egg that had fallen through the roof onto the floor. He carefully takes the baby out of its shell, and it is alive, so he keeps it as a pet, hidden in a carved out book. Reece and Shay play checkers, and Shay wins and takes the bird for his prize. Howerver, during a room sweep, Reece’s book was thrown across the room and the bird was killed. Shay demands his prize, and when he receives the dead bird it comes back to life and hops over to Reece’s cell. Shay shares a single piece of bubblegum with the seven other inmates, imitating the loaves and fishes story.
At this point, not only has word gotten out about the “miracles” Shay has performed, but the public has also caught wind of his desire to give his heart to his victim’s little sister. A crowd forms outside the prison daily, and Father Michael visits Shay in an attempt to be his spiritual advisor and purge himself of the guilt he still harbors after Shay’s trial. Maggie Bloom also comes to see Shay and takes his case in an attempt to grant Shay’s wishes and also to aid in the ACLU’s crusade against the Death Penalty. Meanwhile, Shay requested a visit with June and when he offered his heart to Claire he was turned down. After Shay says that Elizabeth is better off dead, June storms out, but then changes her mind about the heart when filled with vengeance. Shay has also managed to heal Lucius of his AIDS.
Maggie has done research and found out that a) an inmate is legally entitled to practice his religion so long as it does not endanger the other inmates or conflict with the running of the prison and b) should a court find that lethal injection is not appropriate in some case that hanging may be used in the death penalty. She also finds out from a handsome Brit doctor that a lethal injection would render the heart useless as a donation, but that being hanged properly could leave the heart a viable option. Test show that Shay’s heart is actually a perfect match for Claire’s. Not only are they the same blood type and their tissues don’t conflict, but Shay’s heart seems to be to small for his body (though he functions perfectly) thus making it the perfect size for an eleven-year-old girl.
Father Michael is witnessing more amazing sights in his time spent with Shay, such as a prison guard being stabbed in the neck and coming back to life, despite the obvious damage done. Even though a doctor says that it’s likely the guard was simply bleeding too much and went into shock, Michael pieces it together with the other things that have happened since Shay came to the facility (such as the gum and the wine), and the fact that he is able to quote the Gnostic Gospel of Thomas and begins to believe that Shay might truly be Jesus. He consults Rabbi Bloom (Maggie’s father) and Ian Fletcher (from Picoult’s book “Keeping Faith”) in his attempt to understand why Jesus might be here in the guise of a murderer.
During the assault on the guard, a window of opportunity appears for Crash to severely beat up Shay. While Shay is in the hospital, he mistakes Maggie for a woman named Grace.
Maggie goes on a date with the handsome Doctor Gallagher, and Claire goes into cardiac arrest.
Michael reveals to Shay that he was a juror at his trial and Shay tells him to get out.
The trial begins and Claire isn’t getting any better, so even before a verdict is handed down, June says that Maggie should give Shay’s heart to someone else, because she and Claire have both started to give up.
Michael goes to find Grace, who was Shay’s sister. Her face was horribly scarred in a fire that she started because her foster father was abusing her. Shay took the blame for the fire and was arrested. Michael brings Grace back to Shay.
In the eleventh hour of the trial, Shay finally tells his story to Michael. He loved Elizabeth from the first him he came to the house. That day, he came back to the house to fetch his tools and found Elizabeth being raped by her step-father. He tried to wrestle the gun away from the man, and Elizabeth was hit by a stray bullet. Shay did murder Officer Nealon for what he did to Elizabeth, saying that some people deserve to die.
The judge rules in favor of Shay, whose real name is Isaiah Matthew Bourne (I.M. Bourne I Am Born). He gets to be hanged and have his heart donated. June changes her mind and decides that even though Claire doesn’t want the heart of the man who murdered her father and sister, she’s going to have the transplant anyway. There is a lingering fear about cell memory, and whether or not Claire will exhibit Shay’s murderous traits.
Shay is hanged under a tent outside the prison, and Claire comes through the operation successfully. Shay willed his personal possessions to Father Michael, who has returned to the safety of the church. Inside the tiny box of Shay’s things, Michael finds 3 packages of bubble gum (Shay had said he only had one piece) and a package wrapped in paper. Inside the package was a picture of Michael and his grandfather (whom he was very close to) that had been stolen out of his dorm room while he was still a student (long before Shay’s trial or even the murder of Elizabeth and Kurt). The paper that it was wrapped in was actually a page from the Gnostic Gospel of Thomas, featuring the words that Shay had quoted. Father Michael tore up the paper in frustration at himself for believing that Shay was actually the Messiah, but then decides to save the pieces of paper after all.
In the epilogue, Grace is coming to visit a healthy Claire and Claire wonders if Grace will see any of Shay in her. When Claire turns from the mirror, she notices that her beloved family dog hasn’t moved in while. He’s cold, has no pulse, and is not breathing, but when she picks him up, he begins to stir…