Monday, 21 March 2011

Nineteen Minutes

Author: Jodi Picoult
Genre: Modern Fiction
Pages: 453
First Published: 2007
First Line: "By the time you read this, I hope to be dead."

Synopsis: Sterling, New Hampshire is a 'All-American' small town. The peacefulness of the town is rocked when one of it's youth goes on a shooting spree at the local high school killing 10 people and injuring 19 others. This book weaves back and forth from present to the events leading up to the shooting giving the reader various looks into the emotions and thoughts of the main characters.

The story centres around Peter Houghton. From his infancy Peter has been described as a 'challenging baby' compared to his older brother, who could do no wrong. When he starts Kindergarten Peter is excited to meet new kids -- only to have his lunchbox thrown off the moving bus. Peter is quickly made into the butt of jokes and is bullied verbally, physically and emotionally from a young age. The one thing that made public school bearable is his friendship with Josie Cormier. But after an incident happens between the kids their mothers won't allow them to play together anymore resulting in Peter losing his only friend.

Peter's bullying continues on into high school where Peter is targeted by the 'popular crowd' which now includes his only childhood friend, Josie Cormier. Josie is one of the survivors of the shooting but cannot remember anything about the shooting to help police. Is she telling the truth? The reader also gets a look into Josie's life in the popular crowd and all the stresses and loneliness that comes with it.

This is a book that will touch you and I wish it was required reading for parents and high school students. It's a book that shows that even experiences that we think are small to us can greatly effect others, often permenantly. It's a look into the politics of high school and all it's pressures and how those pressures can sometimes lead to dire consequences.

My Thoughts: This was one of those books that just sucked me right in and brought me back to my high school years. I was never the kind of person who wanted to be in the popular crowd. Honestly. I was 'middle of the road' popularity wise. Not picked on but not popular and I was ok with that. Being popular just seemed like too much work plus I had an amazing group of friends who acted like a buffer for all the negative stuff that happens in high school and they made high school enjoyable. Sadly, as this book points out, that's not the case for many kids.

The whole 'survival of the coolest' is clearly shown in this book. The book shows the various groups in high school but I think that the cliques are a little too cliched (the jocks are all gorgeous and dumb while the geeks are total computer nerds with no athletic ability). Overall, Picoult does get her point across -- the whole 'us vs them' mentality and how some kids feel the need to put others down to build themselves up. This book deals with a lot of different issues but I think that Picoult handled them all well. The book deals with bullying, suicidal thoughts, the desire to belong, abuse within a relationship, parents not connecting with their kids ...

One of the things that startled me was how much compassion I had for Peter. He killed 10 people and wounded 19 in a mere 19 minutes! I don't think that his actions were excusable but Picoult was able to show me how a quiet, peaceful kid could be pushed to become a murderer. To see how he was mistreated and abused for YEARS is heart-wrenching. To see how Josie puts up with her own abuse is also touching and sad. Picoult shows the reader that the grass isn't always greener on the other side. Josie finally gets to be popular ... but at what cost? Is she truly happier in her clique? Or does she have more pressure on her than ever before?

As I was reading this book I couldn't help but think back to the relatively recent high school shootings, like Columbine, and wonder if we've really come all that far? I think that there will always be various cliques in high school but it's how those groups socialize around each other and treat each other that is the issue. If we can teach them compassion and respect it'll go a long way in preventing these catastrophes.

I recommend this book. My only beef about this book is that the ending didn't feel complete. It was abrupt and not surprising, unfortunately. But the messages and emotion that this book deals with far outweighs the abrupt ending.

My Rating: 4/5 stars

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