After many months of flat out refusing to even pick up a Jodie Picoult book, let alone read one because of the “intense emotional upheaval” that is often associated with her books, my resistance was finally broken down and I read Nineteen Minutes. In one sitting.
How stressful. Perhaps I should’ve started with less confronting material than a teenage boy who one morning goes on a nineteen-minute shooting spree inside his school. But then again, this is Jodie Picoult. It was either this, or the one about cancer.
Peter Houghton is your average outcast. Victimised by the popular kids at school; abandoned by a childhood friend; and always in the shadow of his perfect older brother. And one fateful morning in March he makes a decision which will change the lives of the small community of Sterling forever. But is it really as simple as that? Ms Picoult’s specialty is making you think about topics you don’t want to. What makes Peter decide on that day to go on his shooting spree? What makes a killer? Is our fate planned from the beginning? Is it something to do with our upbringing? Is it bullying, heartbreak, loss? Does it all come down to one event, one catalyst to set off a terrible chain of events? These are the questions left tossing around your mind as you are introduced to some of the people most affected by that day: Lacy Houghton – Peter’s mother; Patrick Ducharme – the detective working on the case; Jordan McAfee – Peter’s defence lawyer; Josie Cromier – Peter’s childhood friend; and her mother Alex – the initial judge on Peter’s case.
Ms Picoult uses a wonderful technique to combine all the elements and intricacies in the story as she writes years, months, days and hours before and after the shooting. This lovely example of circular storytelling not only forces the reader into the minds of the various people touched by the conflict, but also makes sure that we do not find out the shocking twist until the very end.
19 Minutes was very good, but to be honest, it didn’t live up to the grand expectations that I had built around it. I found the strongest parts of the novel were the narratives of Detective Patrick Ducharme, Alex Cormier and Lacy Houghton. Not only are they well connected to the shooting, but they also provide a fascinating and compelling look into the way a community reacts to an event like this. For many of us, a tragedy on this level is hard to comprehend, and I found myself empathising with them instead of the main characters of Josie and Peter. Unfortunately I found Josie’s character clichéd: Girl has odd-ball friend growing up which she eventually decides to abandon for the sake of popularity and subsequently always feels like a fake. Her only salvation is her part in the surprise twist ending, which turns the story completely on its head.
If you like melodrama and a good thought provoking read, this is definitely the book for you. 19 Minutes will suck you in from the very first page, despite its flaws. You may also be tempted to give all your friends extra big hugs the next time you see them. After all, “in nineteen minutes you can mow the lawn, colour your hair, watch a third of a hockey game.” In nineteen minutes, you can bring the world to a screeching halt.
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