Genres: Chick Lit, Contemporary, Fiction
Jodi Picoult, bestselling author of My Sister's Keeper and The Tenth Circle, pens her most riveting book yet, with a startling and poignant story about the devastating aftermath of a small-town tragedy. Sterling is an ordinary New Hampshire town where nothing ever happens--until the day its complacency is shattered by an act of violence. Josie Cormier, the daughter of the judge sitting on the case, should be the state's best witness, but she can't remember what happened before her very own eyes--or can she? As the trial progresses, fault lines between the high school and the adult community begin to show--destroying the closest of friendships and families. Nineteen Minutes asks what it means to be different in our society, who has the right to judge someone else, and whether anyone is ever really who they seem to be.
With Nineteen Minutes, Jodi Picoult has another masterpiece in her hands. It is poignant and intense and the last 100 pages were absolutely unputdownable. It is a story of great taboo with two sides, and you find yourself switching sides every chapter. Typical Picoult.
In Nineteen Minutes, teenage boy Peter Houghton brings four guns to his high school and goes on a shooting rampage. Many students were murdered; even more were injured. Thus begins the most important trial their little town has ever known. Why did Peter do it?
The story starts off with this magnificent quote:
“In nineteen minutes, you can mow the front lawn, color your hair, watch a third of a hockey game. In nineteen minutes, you can bake scones or get a tooth filled by a dentist; you can fold laundry for a family of five.
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 jump off it.
In nineteen minutes, you can get revenge.”
And you know you’re in for a good one.
We follow around Patrick Ducharme, the cop who entered Sterling High during the shooting and arrested Peter Houghton. We meet Alex Cormier, trial judge, and her daughter Josie, who was present at the shooting and used to be best friends with Peter. There’s Jordan McAfee, Peter’s defence attorney, and Peter himself. The story switches from the day of the shooting, to the months following the trial, to Peter’s childhood and teenage years, and the trial itself.
Turns out, Peter is not a monster at all, but rather a tormented kid. From the day he went to kindergarten, he has been bullied every day in his life. He had his property stolen and broken, he has been shoved in lockers, he’s had his head pushed in toilets, and he’s been publicly humiliated so many times that you wouldn’t be able to count it on all your fingers and all your toes. He also lost his best and only friend, Josie Cormier, when she decided to ditch him for the popular crowd. When he confessed his feelings for her in an e-mail, they sent the e-mail out to the entire school and pantsed him in front of Josie. This is a hurt and traumatised boy who, one day, decided to put an end to it.
There was this one scene where Peter’s mother tried to comfort him and said, “One day, Peter, everyone’s going to know your name.”
It’s a strange feeling to root for the shooter, but that’s the magic of Picoult’s books. She takes a taboo subject, like school shooting, and manages to twist the story so that you’re actually feeling sympathetic towards the guy who’s killed a bunch of teenagers and a teacher. Peter’s story is a horrible one and I couldn’t help but feel sorry for him throughout the entire book.
I didn’t like Josie very much. She dumps her best friend to become popular, and then she starts dating Matt Royston just because he’s popular. She stays with him even though he’s a total douche. He’s manipulative and controlling. He threatens to commit suicide when Josie breaks up with him. He puts a hand over her mouth and continues when they have sex without a condom and Josie protests. He calls her a whore when she talks to other guys. And then he has the gall to tell her he loves her. I don’t understand how Josie could put up with him, even for popularity. There is not enough money in the world to make me go out with a guy like Matt. What a dingus.
One of my favourite subplots was the romance between Patrick Ducharme and Alex Courmier. It didn’t take up a lot of space, but it was really cute. Alex was struggling between being a good judge and being a good mother to Josie, and Patrick was there to comfort her. See for yourself:
‘Since we’re not in court,’ she said hesitantly, ‘I’d like it if you called me Alex.’
Patrick smiled. ‘And I’d like it if you called me Your Majesty King Kamehameha.’
Alex couldn’t help herself; she laughed.
‘But it that’s too hard to remember, Patrick would be fine.’
If that’s not a keeper, I don’t know what is.
I couldn’t put the book down for the last 100 pages or so. Before that, we went over the lives of everyone, including their backstories. It was interesting and I love Picoult’s attention to detail, but sometimes it was a bit much. I thought it took away from the pace and wanted it to move along. However, when the trial finally happened, things got exciting again. I love the back-and-forth and the cross-examinations. I love the secrets they hold back until the very end. And I especially loved this scene, when Jordan McAfee cross-examines Drew, a guy who used to bully Peter alongside Matt:
‘Ever shove Peter into a locker?’
‘Just joking around?’ McAfee said.
‘Okay,’ he continued. ‘Did you ever trip him?’
‘Wait . . . let me guess . . . joke, right?’
Drew glowered. ‘Yes.’
Jordan McAfee slapped the email down on the railing in front of him. ‘Well, Drew?’ he said. ‘Was it a good joke?’
I cut it down a fair bit because it was about two pages long, but you get the gist. It was powerful and intense and I was totally cheering for McAfee. Amazing scene.
If you’re not familiar with Picoult’s work or you want to read something else by her, pick up Nineteen Minutes. It deals with school shooting in such an amazing and realistic way. It could happen to anyone, really. Kids get bullied every day, and one day, they’ll decide enough is enough. Definitely one of her better works, if not her best.
She did it again, guys.