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Freelance ​carpenter Shay Bourne was sentenced to death for killing a little girl, Elizabeth Nealon, and her cop stepfather. Eleven years after the murders, Elizabeth’s sister, Claire, needs a heart transplant, and Shay volunteers, which complicates the state’s execution plans. Meanwhile, death row has been the scene of some odd events since Shay’s arrival—an AIDS victim goes into remission, an inmate’s pet bird dies and is brought back to life, wine flows from the water faucets. The author brings other compelling elements to an already complex plot line: the priest who serves as Shay’s spiritual adviser was on the jury that sentenced him; Shay’s ACLU representative, Maggie Bloom, balances her professional moxie with her negative self-image and difficult relationship with her mother. Picoult moves the story along with lively debates about prisoner rights and religion, while plumbing the depths of mother-daughter relationships and examining the literal and metaphorical meanings of having heart.

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