The opening words of the book are, "In the beginning, I believed in second chances." That sets the ominous tone for the rest of the book. Will she believe in second chances in the end? This book centers around religion and explores issues related to forgiveness and social issues surrounding capitol punishment. As is usual for Picoult, she has contrived a plot filled with moral and social dilemmas of an extreme nature. Then she has populated the story with an interesting cast of characters and proceeds to pull on every imaginable emotional string. The cast of characters includes a broad spectrum of religious beliefs, and it seems that they're all having a crisis of faith, including the atheist!
Picoult is a master at articulating strong personal emotions by writing first person narratives from multiple characters. It is a format that gives rise to interior monologues filled with thought provoking aphorisms. They're the sort of thing that can cause the reader to stop and ponder, and then when the book is finished, ponder again. The following quote is an example of one such aphorism:"... in order to forgive, you have to remember how you were hurt in the first place. And that in order to forget, you had to accept your role in what had happened."
The above quotation means one thing when mentioned early in the book. It means something different by the end of the book.
The story has many references to the non-canonical Gospel of Thomas, and seems to suggest that gospel contains the foundation for current new age religion. The book sort of follows in the spirit of the "Da Vinci Code" by suggesting that the Roman Catholic Church suppressed the true Christian religion by banning the non-orthodox writings. In general the book is sufficiently balanced for most people to enjoy the story without being too offended by its treatment of religion. However, some may object to the story's portrayal of an individual in the story who shows signs of possibly being the second incarnation of Jesus. But it does raise the question, if Jesus did return as a simple human, would we be able to recognize him (or her)?