In nineteen minutes, you can order a pizza and get it delivered. You can read a story to a child or have your oil changed. You can walk a mile. You can sew a hem. In nineteen minutes, you can stop the world, or you can just jump off it. In nineteen minutes, you can get revenge. -From Nineteen Minutes, page 1-
Jodi Picoult writes intelligently, exposing hot-button issues in her many best selling novels. I have read several of her books, and am rarely disappointed. Nineteen Minutes was no exception.
This is a novel which takes on the shocking and horrifying issue of school shootings. Sterling High School, located in rural New Hampshire, becomes the focus of the network news when Peter Houghton opens fire on his fellow students, killing 10 and injuring 19. The central question is: Why? Written in a non-linear style …starting with the day of the shootings, then jumping backwards in time to when the main characters were only children or young mothers…Picoult attempts to explain the unexplainable by gradually uncovering the past.
The characters who people the pages of Nineteen Minutes include Josie Cormier (a teenager who straddles the social strata between the “cool” kids and the “outcasts”), Alex Cormier (Josie’s mother, the newly appointed superior court judge of Grafton County), Lacy Hougton (a mid-wife who is devastated to discover it is her son who has committed such a terrible crime), Lewis Houghton (Peter’s father who hides behind math equations in his attempt to discover the formula for happiness), Patrick Ducharme (the detective who is the first to enter the school as the shootings take place), Jordan McAfee (the young, idealistic defense attorney), and the popular kids who become targets for the rage of a bullied teen. Picoult writes from these multiple points of view while developing characters with depth and complexity.
Nineteen Minutes is not just about a school shooting. Picoult explores other themes…such as the idea of identity. Do we ever really know the people closest to us? How do we know what is authentic and who wears a mask hiding their motivations?
If you spent you life concentrating on what everyone else thought of you, would you forget who you really were? What if the face you showed the world turned out to be a mask…with nothing beneath it? -From Nineteen Minutes, page 83-
The gun control debate is handled fairly – showing both sides of a controversial and unsettled issue in our society.
A gun was nothing, really, without a person behind it. -From Nineteen Minutes, page 89-
But, the theme which resonates the strongest in Nineteen Minutes is that of expectations – those for ourselves as well as those entertained by parents for children and children for parents – and how those expectations shape our lives. Is it fair to judge someone? Should we expect the world to accept us as we are, and if not, is it ever okay to strike back?
Picoult has written a book which is chilling, yet tender…it is a book hard to put down and yet difficult to read.