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The acclaimed #1 New York Times bestselling author presents a spellbinding tale of a mother's tragic loss and one man's last chance at gaining salvation.
Can we save ourselves, or do we rely on others to do it? Is what we believe always the truth?
One moment June Nealon was happily looking forward to years full of laughter and adventure with her family, and the next, she was staring into a future that was as empty as her heart. Now her life is a waiting game. Waiting for time to heal her wounds, waiting for justice. In short, waiting for a miracle to happen.
For Shay Bourne, life holds no more surprises. The world has given him nothing, and he has nothing to offer the world. In a heartbeat, though, something happens that changes everything for him. Now, he has one last chance for salvation, and it lies with June's eleven-year-old daughter, Claire. But between Shay and Claire stretches an ocean of bitter regrets, past crimes, and the rage of a mother who has lost her child.
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?
Once again, Jodi Picoult mesmerizes and enthralls readers with this story of redemption, justice, and love.
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JODI PICOULT is the author of eighteen novels, including the #1 New York Times bestsellers House Rules, Handle With Care, Change of Heart, Nineteen Minutes, and My Sister’s Keeper. She lives in New Hampshire with her husband and three children. Visit her website at www.jodipicoult.com.Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:
In the beginning, I believed in second chances. How else could I account for the fact that years ago, right after the accident -- when the smoke cleared and the car had stopped tumbling end over end to rest upside down in a ditch -- I was still alive; I could hear Elizabeth, my little girl, crying? The police officer who had pulled me out of the car rode with me to the hospital to have my broken leg set, with Elizabeth -- completely unhurt, a miracle -- sitting on his lap the whole time. He'd held my hand when I was taken to identify my husband Jack's body. He came to the funeral. He showed up at my door to personally inform me when the drunk driver who ran us off the road was arrested.
The policeman's name was Kurt Nealon. Long after the trial and the conviction, he kept coming around just to make sure that Elizabeth and I were all right. He brought toys for her birthday and Christmas. He fixed the clogged drain in the upstairs bathroom. He came over after he was off duty to mow the savannah that had once been our lawn.
I had married Jack because he was the love of my life; I had planned to be with him forever. But that was before the definition of forever was changed by a man with a blood alcohol level of .22.
I was surprised that Kurt seemed to understand that you might never love someone as hard as you had the first time you'd fallen; I was even more surprised to learn that maybe you could.
Five years later, when Kurt and I found out we were going to have a baby, I almost regretted it -- the same way you stand beneath a perfect blue sky on the most glorious day of the summer and admit to yourself that all moments from here on in couldn't possibly measure up. Elizabeth had been two when Jack died; Kurt was the only father she'd ever known. They had a connection so special it sometimes made me feel I should turn away, that I was intruding. If Elizabeth was the princess, then Kurt was her knight.
The imminent arrival of this little sister (how strange is it that none of us ever imagined the new baby could be anything but a girl?) energized Kurt and Elizabeth to fever pitch. Elizabeth drew elaborate sketches of what the baby's room should look like. Kurt hired a contractor to build the addition. But then the builder's mother had a stroke and he had to move unexpectedly to Florida; none of the other crews had time to fit our job into their schedules before the baby's birth. We had a hole in our wall and rain leaking through the attic ceiling; mildew grew on the soles of our shoes.
When I was seven months pregnant, I came downstairs to find Elizabeth playing in a pile of leaves that had blown past the plastic sheeting into the living room. I was deciding between crying and raking my carpet when the doorbell rang.
He was holding a canvas roll that contained his tools, something that never left his possession, like another man might tote around his wallet. His hair brushed his shoulders and was knotted. His clothes were filthy and he smelled of snow -- although it wasn't the right season. Shay Bourne arrived, unexpected, like a flyer from a summer carnival that blusters in on a winter wind, making you wonder just where it's been hiding all this time.
He had trouble speaking -- the words tangled, and he had to stop and unravel them before he could say what he needed to say. "I want to..." he began, and then started over: "Do you, is there, because..." The effort made a fine sweat break out on his forehead. "Is there anything I can do?" he finally managed, as Elizabeth came running toward the front door.
You can leave, I thought. I started to close the door, instinctively protecting my daughter. "I don't think so..."
Elizabeth slipped her hand into mine and blinked up at him. "There's a lot that needs to be fixed," she said.
He got down to his knees then and spoke to my daughter easily -- words that had been full of angles and edges for him a minute before now flowed like a waterfall. "I can help," he replied.
Kurt was always saying people are never who you think they are, that it was necessary to get a complete background check on a person before you made any promises. I'd tell him he was being too suspicious, too much the cop. After all, I had let Kurt himself into my life simply because he had kind eyes and a good heart, and even he couldn't argue with the results.
"What's your name?" I asked.
"Shay. Shay Bourne."
"You're hired, Mr. Bourne," I said, the beginning of the end.
SEVEN MONTHS LATER
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 aud...
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