The Bookish Type

Book Reviews

Nineteen Minutes by Jodi Picoult February 27, 2010

Nineteen minutes can change your life forever, or end it. Every resident of Sterling, New Hampshire learns this hard lesson one sunny morning in Jodi Picoult’s heart-wrenching novel Nineteen Minutes. Peter Houghton has never been a “social butterfly.” His hand-eye coordination is non-existent, so the jock world is out of his reach. He’s remarkably average (or maybe even a little below-average) in appearance, so he can’t breeze through this superficial world. He’s a geeky computer whiz, and is forever living in his elder brother’s shadow, even after he’s killed in a tragic car accident just shy of his high school graduation. Peter has suffered torment at the hands of his peers his entire life, but he’s always had Josie, daughter of the local judge and his childhood best friend. But Josie isn’t like Peter. She’s graceful and pretty, smart but not nerdy, and when the two friends reach high school she succumbs to her fear of ridicule and the allure of popularity, joining the crowd of jocks and beauties who constantly make Peter’s life a living hell. After what would become their final joke at Peter’s expense, this crowd begins yet another day of school, never expecting it to be the day that Peter finally fights back. When Peter opens fire on the students of Sterling High, leaving a trail of horror and death in his wake, he sets in motion a chain of events from which no one in the small town can escape unscathed.

True to form, Jodi Picoult takes a timely topic that most would rather shove into the dark recesses of their minds like a horrifying nightmare and forces readers to instead face it head-on, often not quite in the way they expect. In Nineteen Minutes, readers see the horrifying school shooting at the heart of the novel from every possible perspective: the police and lawyers, the survivors and their families, and even the shooter and his parents – the latter being perspectives all too frequently overlooked. Picoult brilliantly crafts this tale to show the intricate series of events that can lead someone to commit such an unfathomable act. Readers will be surprised to find themselves pitying Peter, along with the other victims of his crime. While Picoult in no way endorses his actions, she does masterfully give shape and shade to his mind and motives, rather than taking the traditional route of black and white, villain and hero, criminal and victim. Through an interwoven blend of childhood flashbacks, present glimpses, and a timeline of the final hours leading up to Peter’s nineteen minute rampage of terror through Sterling High, Picoult explores the complex psychologies of her characters, and the environment capable of fostering an individual capable of so much violence, making discoveries that will probably surprise most readers. Nineteen Minutes is a heart-pounding and gut-wrenching tale that is hard to hear and perhaps even harder to tell, but it is one that should be heard. The final courtroom scene is worthy of Atticus Finch and the ultimate astonishing plot twist will leave readers reeling. Picoult once again succeeds in crafting a thought-provoking and belief-challenging narrative that readers will still be contemplating months after they’ve turned the final page.

Rating: (3.5/5)

This book can be purchased here.