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Review: Nineteen Minutes

 

 

I’ve come to expect a certain type of book from Jodi Picoult: engrossing contemporary fiction woven around a controversial current issue. Nineteen Minutes, in which she tackles the twin issues of peer bullying and school violence, did not disappoint.

Peter Houghton, an unpopular 17 year-old, has suffered aggressive bullying at the hands of the popular crowd throughout his school career. Over the years, he has grown bitter and resentful, seeking solace in violent music and video games and fantasizing about getting revenge. One day Peter snaps and storms his high school, armed with a car bomb and four firearms. In the time span of a mere nineteen minutes, he kills ten students and injures many more.

Picoult does a commendable job of creating a cast of complex, multi-dimensional characters. She turns a character who has done something unquestionably evil – Peter – into someone the reader feels sorry for, or at least understands on some level. My maternal heart broke for Peter’s mother, Lacy, as she struggled with her feelings about her son … denial, guilt, devastating sadness. Josie, another star of the story, was a member of the popular crowd but had been Peter’s childhood best friend. She lost many friends and her boyfriend in the shooting, but intermingled with her feelings of anger toward Peter was a sense of guilt about the way she and the popular clique had mistreated him.

I put off reading this book for at least a year, because of the chilling subject matter. At one point, I thought I must be crazy for picking it up the summer before my oldest child enters high school. But ultimately, I’m glad I did. Nineteen Minutes has all the elements of a great contemporary novel – an engaging plot, excellent character development, succinct yet lyrical prose. More importantly, it really made me think about the issue of bullying, how we deal with it, and it’s potentially devastating effects.  As Picoult says in the book trailer, it’s a subject we all need to start talking about.

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