Nineteen Minutes – Book Review

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.

Highly recommended;

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  1. I thought this was brilliant, too. Like you said, difficult to read and yet hard to put down. I actually listened to it on audiobook, and the actress who read it did a wonderful job.

  2. Great – great review! I can’t wait to read it!

  3. Thanks for the review, I’ve read Picoults other stuff, but this one sounds a little different – which is what I need, her other books were getting a little staid for me.

  4. I’ve been avoiding this, although I do enjoy Picoult’s work. I didn’t think I could take the subject matter. However, after reading this I might well pick up a copy when they start to filter into the Oxfam shop. Thanks for the review and for seeing past the obvious.

    • Teddy on May 23, 2008 at 11:57

    Wonderful review. I haven’t read any Jodi Picoult yet, but I plan to read ‘My Sister’s Keeper’ this year. I have ‘Nineteen Minutes’ on my TBR as well.

  5. I read this book last year and thought it was fantastic. The one thing about Picoult that I love is that she looks at all sides of a story. She did a great job in this one!

    • Wendy on May 23, 2008 at 15:38

    Carrie: I bet it was really good on audio. I don’t normally listen to audio books, but certain books I think translate well in that venue.

    J. Kaye: Thanks! Let me know what you think after you’ve read it.

    Rabid Book Reader: I usually like Picoult’s work…so I may be a bit biased with this one. However, the reviews for Nineteen Minutes have been overwhelmingly positive.

    Ann: The subject matter is not easy…but I think Picoult covers enough other ground, that the school shooting becomes the backdrop for other societal issues.

    Teddy: Thank you 🙂 I haven’t read My Sister’s Keeper…although I have the book and people keep telling me to read it!

    Stephanie: I remember reading your review…and I agree, Picoult’s ability to address multiple issues from multiple angles is one of the things which makes her such an enjoyable author for me to read.

  6. I loved this book too – I think she handled it very realistically and fairly. Not condemning either way 🙂

    • Wendy on May 25, 2008 at 07:30

    Sally: Yup – exactly. Picoult really balanced both sides of the issue very well in this book.

    • Trish on May 29, 2008 at 04:55

    I’m glad you liked this one! It’s not my favorite Picoult. I read it right after the Virginia Tech shootings so it had such an eerie feeling of oh my goodness, this does really happen. I haven’t read her new book yet, but plan to sometime soon.

    • Wendy on May 30, 2008 at 07:22

    Trish: I can imagine that if you had something like this actually happen close to you, that this would be a tough book to read. It felt very “real” to me. I hope to read her new one at some point as well.

    • fairviewgirl on February 24, 2009 at 13:56

    this was a good book! i could not put it down, i just wanted to keep reading and when it was done i wanted it to keep goin. Picoult is an amazing writer!

    • Wendy on February 25, 2009 at 13:08

    Fairviewgirl: I generally really appreciate Picoult’s books…and this was a good one!

    • Kelli on March 17, 2009 at 13:41

    i’m fairly young and i’m in the midst of reading this book and i find it very interesting to try and decipher the characters thoughts and the struggles they go through. its a great book, and i look forward to finding out what happens in the end. 🙂

    • Wendy on March 21, 2009 at 07:38

    Kelli: Thanks for stopping by. It *is* a complex book and well-written. Glad you are finding it a good read!

    • Wendy on October 4, 2009 at 17:32

    Mr. Bansford, This blog is not a place where you get a platform to rant and go on and on about banning books. If you read my blog you must know that I do not support banning of books. Your comment, although it purports to show why this book is so horrific, is actually more graphic than the book. I have deleted your comment as this is not the place to push through your causes. If you want to do that, start your own blog. Thank you.

    • Julie on January 8, 2010 at 20:03

    Just finished this book… Wow… a hard read for any parent but especially a parent that has tweens or teens ( I have a 12 and 10 year old… girls)… Makes you really think how cruel kids can be… This is my 3rd book of Picoults that I have read thus far and have Harvesting the Heart waiting for me.

    • Wendy on January 27, 2010 at 11:08

    Julie: thanks for weighing in on this book – I agree this is a tough book to read, and although I don’t have kids, I have nieces and it makes one think twice, doesn’t it? I enjoy Picoult’s books which often deal with difficult topics.

    • Julie on January 27, 2010 at 13:14

    I also love reading Picoult’s books. Just finished Harvesting the Heart.. had a little trouble getting “into” it at the beginning but turned out pretty good. I just started reading Plain Truth… Hoping it is as good as the others 🙂

    • Wendy on January 31, 2010 at 10:52

    Julie: Good to hear that eventually you enjoyed Harvesting the Heart – I haven’t read that one yet. I really liked Plain Truth – hope you do too!

    • Ali on December 7, 2010 at 10:47

    This is an excellent review. I am writing a research paper on the topic of book banning and have been assigned this book. I honestly don’t agree with the banning but is there anyone who has read or is reading this who does? I need all the opinions I can get! Thanks.

    • Wendy on December 7, 2010 at 16:20

    Thanks, Ali…I can understand how some parents might feel this is too sensitive a subject about which to write a novel…and that may be why the idea of banning it seems so popular (I also think that many people believe that kids who are disturbed can somehow get an idea to do something like this by reading a book – certainly not my belief…but it is a popular one). Try doing a Google search for “Nineteen Minutes Book Review”…I seem to remember that a lot of bloggers read and reviewed this one.

    • juleigh on June 20, 2011 at 11:54

    I think of all Jodi Picoult’s books (and I’ve read *almost* all of them), I think “Nineteen Minutes” is the best. People who believe this should be banned can just run along. I truly believe it should be REQUIRED reading for all high school teachers, administraters, and, most importantly, students.

    • Wendy on June 21, 2011 at 05:54

    Juleigh: I agree – Nineteen Minutes is a very powerful book and one of Picoult’s best. I don’t agree with banning books AT ALL! So I’m with you there. And I think it addresses very important issues for teens. Thanks for stopping by!

    • Chas on September 19, 2011 at 09:38

    Its a truly fantastic book, Picoult really knows how to tug on the readers heart strings. I think, that this book should be mandatory for every highschool reading list. People need to know how much of an impact their comments have on someone and this book is a fine example.

    • Wendy on October 25, 2011 at 08:49

    Chas: I agree – Picoult really knows how to touch on the contemporary issues of our time.

    • Nancy on November 30, 2011 at 20:35

    After a teacher recomended this book a looked, i decied to read it. Im not done with it but so far its good and its hard to put it down. I also love the book my sister’s keeper.

    • Wendy on December 4, 2011 at 18:31

    Nancy: I have yet to read My Sister’s Keeper – need to remedy that! Glad you are immersed in this book – Picoult is a good writer.

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