Best known for tackling controversial issues through richly told fictional accounts, Jodi Picoult’s 14th novel, Nineteen Minutes, deals with the truth and consequences of a smalltown high-school shooting. Set in Sterling, New Hampshire, Picoult offers reads a glimpse of what would cause a 17-year-old to wake up one day, load his backpack with four guns, and kill nine students and one teacher in the span of nineteen minutes. As with any Picoult novel, the answers are never black and white, and it is her exceptional ability to blur the lines between right and wrong that make this author such a captivating storyteller.
On Peter Houghton’s first day of kindergarten, he watched helplessly as an older boy ripped his lunch box out of his hands and threw it out the window. From that day on, his life was a series of humiliations, from having his pants pulled down in the cafeteria, to being called a freak at every turn. But can endless bullying justify murder? As Picoult attempts to answer this question, she shows us all sides of the equation, from the ruthless jock who loses his ability to speak after being shot in the head, to the mother who both blames and pities herself for producing what most would call a monster. Surrounding Peter’s story is that of Josie Cornier, a former friend whose acceptance into the popular crowd hangs on a string that makes it impossible for her to reconcile her beliefs with her actions.
This book was amazing. Picoult is such a remarkable, lyrical and evocative writer. I really thought she was true to how the pain and trauma of a high school shooting affect the community. I also really liked how we saw the tragedy through multiple perspectives. It really was jarring how Peter’s parents felt just as lost, confused and heartbroken as the parents of the victims. Of course, for Lacey and Lewis, they were also plagued with self-doubt in their parenting abilities and blamed themselves for what Peter did.
I found it to be an interesting change that Peter did not kill himself at the end of the shooting spree, and I liked how we got to see what was going on in his head. Sometimes, I found myself sympathizing with him, but at others, I found him to be remorseless and a repulsive human being. At the heart of the matter, I do think Peter was a very tortured individual who was driven to do what he did out of desperation and a desire to make the bullying stop. Obviously, I don’t condone his actions, but it’s shocking how much psychological and physical abuse he went through.
One thing I noticed about Josie was that she seemed to give Peter mixed messages. At times, she treated him with such distaste and at others, she’s kissing him in elevators. The relationship between them was so complex and I really liked how both the characters were written. There were a lot of moments when we saw Josie through Peter’s eyes (to let the reader know how much Peter cared about her), and there were a few where we saw Peter through Josie’s eyes (to let the reader see how separated in status they were). It was an interesting writing style to adopt where we saw Peter differently by everyone.
The ending was incredible. This book forces you to see both sides of the story and really makes you think. Highly recommended.