To be honest, I have mixed feelings about Nineteen Minutes. I suspect I am supposed to, so maybe that is ok. Nineteen Minutes is about a school shooting, a subject that makes both scares me and interests me at the same time. The title comes from how long it took for the whole shooting incident to occur, from start to end.
The topic itself freaks me out. Columbine wasn’t that long ago, and Virginia Tech feels like it was yesterday. Back when I was still working as a substitute teacher, I had more than a few nightmares about what might happen if a student decided to bring a gun into a classroom I was in charge of, or into a school I was randomly assigned to one day.
Ultimately, what made me decide to read this particular book anyway was Picoult’s reputation. Everyone who has told me about her work raves about it. I wanted to see if she was as good a writer as I’d been led to believe.
Picoult’s book is fiction, and not based on any real live events from any particular school shooting incident. I found it to be a very intense read, despite the fact that I knew it wasn’t a true story.
It starts out taking the reader through one fateful day in a high school, right before things started blowing up, and shots were fired. In this chapter, the reader gets a little tiny bit of information that introduces many of the main characters, one right after the other. I found it confusing, at first, and it was difficult to get a good sense of who was who, and just what each character was like.
Then, Picoult takes us through the school day, from many of the different character’s points of view. Just when I was thinking “Ok, so, when is this going to go somewhere?”, an explosion happens. What a powerful way to end a chapter!
From there, Picoult jumps around in time, and ends up giving us all the missing details about her characters. There is so much depth in each one. Josie is a high school student, who is with “the in crowd” (but secretly considering suicide). Her boyfriend, Matt, is the most popular athlete in the high school (who secretly has a controlling, and sometimes violent side).
Peter is the kid that everyone picks on, and has been that kid since his very first day of kindergarten (but for years, secretly, he and Josie were best friends). It’s no secret to the reader that Peter is the shooter. What is a mystery is just what set Peter off that particular day, and what, exactly, happened once Peter arrived at school that morning.
This takes place in a small town, where everyone knows everyone else, and has for years. I think this makes things that much more tragic. They all function like a huge family, and suddenly, so many people were lost, forever. It also makes things stickier.
Alex is Josie’s mom, but she is also the judge who will have to try this case. Can she really be unbiased? Will Josie be able to testify if her mom is the judge? Should Josie’s mom recuse herself, or try the case based on her personal involvement? Which is worse?
Lacy is Peter’s mom, and also the nurse that helped Alex when she gave birth to Josie. The two women were friends (like Josie and Peter were friends) until one fateful day, when something scary happens at Peter’s house, and Alex decided Josie could not be friends with Peter anymore.
That particular event seems like a giant flashing light of foreshadowing, and the question becomes, can Alex try this case fairly, considering what she thinks about that one incident that happened so long ago?
Lacy finds that she can’t go anywhere in town, without being stared at. (There goes the mother of the shooter.) Peter’s father was a professor that did lectures on happiness, and now, he finds himself having a nervous breakdown.
The lawyer who defends Peter finds his tires slashed by angry townspeople who cannot see how anyone could defend the teen who killed so many other teens. Should the town close the high school where the shooting happened for a little while, or tear it down and build a new one, that won’t hold that stigma, instead? It’s very intertwined.
Picoult is an excellent writer. Her book held my interest the entire time, and I like how she slowly gave the reader little pieces of the big picture of what really happened that day. Most of it seemed very believable to me, except for one major plot point at the end.
Josie is having trouble remembering the events of that day, and everyone believes it is because her boyfriend Matt was shot and killed, while she was standing inches away from him, watching. She herself was injured, and knocked out. It seems logical that Josie can’t remember because she is still in shock, or is experiencing Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, or maybe just hit her head when she fell, or something like that.
Almost at the end of the book, the reader finds out that Matt died in a slightly different way than you might have thought happened. I did not find this very believable, but, other readers might see some truth in it I could not see.
I did enjoy this book, to a point. It scared me. It was a very uncomfortable read, due to the subject matter. This is not a book I think I will decide to read again someday.
However, I did like the style of Picoult’s writing, her ability to create characters that seemed very real, and her way of weaving things into the story as it goes along. Picoult takes a concept that has been getting a lot of media attention lately, and makes a story from it that is not only original, but also deep, and very engaging.
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