“Nineteen Minutes” by Jodi Picoult

Nineteen MinutesI picked up this novel by Jodi Picoult at the airport on my way to Scotland a couple of summers ago. My plane was delayed for hours and so I just had to get some new reading material. I chose this one because I’ve read other novels by Jodi Picoult and love her writing style. I had, however, forgotten that her subject matter is often disturbing, to say the least!

Without checking properly what it was about, beyond a brief glance at the blurb on the back “an ordinary New Hampshire town where nothing ever happens,” “an act of violence,” and something about a trial. I just grabbed it along with another, thinking I’d be able to enjoy them as “light summer reading.” Boy, was I ever wrong!

Now, don’t get me wrong. I really enjoyed “Nineteen Minutes” – it’s brilliantly written and the characters are just so real. The situation, though, is not fun at all.

So what is it about?

The act of violence is a school shooting, that lasts for the title’s nineteen minutes, and forever changes the community. Less than a year previously the news had been full of the latest school shooting, this one in Connecticut, not so far from where I live. They kept saying the shooter had mental problems in that one, and somehow the mother should have done more to prevent the tragedy, or the system or both should have done something.

When I realized what “Nineteen Minutes” was about I initially expected a similar type of situation. Again, boy was I wrong! Jodi Picoult, in her usual fashion, delves into the situation from all angles – the perspective of the shooter, the victims, the parents of the victims, the parents of the shooter, the friend of the shooter, the kids who bullied the shooter, the detective assigned to the case, the judge who had to recuse herself because her daughter knew both the shooter and a victim – see how complicated it gets?

In reading the book you experience empathy for the shooter, a child whose first day at school was a horrifying wake up call, the agony experienced by the parents of the victims, the shock of the shooter’s parents, the feelings of the other students, and so on. Although the novel ends with all their stories reaching some kind of resolution, the reader is left with many questions to ponder.

One point that hit me was why do some children enjoy life in school, being popular and successful, while others (like a younger sibling) suffer through bullying and rejection? And what does a parent do when their children have such opposite experiences?

My full review is published here.

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