“19 Minutes” by Jodi Picoult

16 May


"19 Minutes" is the latest novel from bestselling author Jodi Picoult, who has written such well-regarded books as "My Sister's Keeper." Although Picoult's novels are written for adults, she has a large teen audience because many of her stories focus on families and teenagers. "19 Minutes" is no exception. Here, we have the story of a school shooting at a high school in Sterling, New Hampshire. In nineteen minutes, sixteen year-old Peter Houghton, a bullied, largely friendless teen, kills ten of his classmates and wounds dozens others. One of the few people Peter spares in his rampage is his childhood best friend, the blazingly popular Josie Cormier.

As you might imagine, the shootings devastate the community at large as well as all the families involved, including Peter's and Josie's. Peter's mom, midwife Lacy, struggles to forgive her son, whom everyone views as a monster, while his dad, college professor Lewis, retreats completely. Josie's single mother, local judge Alex Cormier, fails repeatedly in her attempts to reach out to her daughter, who fainted during the shooting spree and claims to have no memory of the events. Josie is particularly distraught because her boyfriend, Matt — a cruel boy who was one of Peter's biggest tormentors — is dead.

Nothing is exactly as it seems in this story. While Peter is clearly a murderer, it's hard not to feel compassion for him after learning about his long history of being teased, taunted, abused, and humiliated by his classmates. And as the reader discovers more about Josie's relationship with Matt, her grief and heartache become both more and less difficult to understand.

There are lots of flashbacks in the story — some reaching back to before Josie's birth — that help the reader become deeply attached to these characters. As the story builds toward Peter's trial and its shocking conclusion, the reader has learned so much about each of the characters that they seem, truly, like real people. This is a detailed, long novel with very rich language and an honest, unflinching insight into teenagers' worlds. It might not be for all teens, but for high school age readers interested in a complex look at the effects of abuse and bullying, this is a great read.

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Posted by on May 16, 2007 in Uncategorized


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