Nineteen Minutes by Jodi Picoult

A Review

nineteen minutes

Nineteen minutes tells a story of lives shattered at Sterling High School in New Hampshire when one of the students, Peter Houghton took a gun to school and shot his fellow students. All it took was 19 minutes to completely change the lives of everyone in the school and the community. The story starts by potraying a normal day at the high school before the 19 minutes of mayhem.

“In nineteen minutes, you can mow the front lawn; color your hair; watch a third of a hockey game. In nineteen minutes, you can bake scones or get a tooth filled by a dentist; you can fold laundry for a family of five.
In nineteen minutes, you can stop the world; or you can just jump off it.”
― Jodi Picoult, Nineteen Minutes

The story goes back and forth to give a background of Peter’s life before the shooting. I have noticed this is Jodi’s style of writing moving between the present and the past. It is clear that Peter had been a victim of bullying since kindergarten all the way to high school so it’s a bit easy to guess his motive for shooting the students.

Another key character is Josie Comier who is Peter’s childhood friend until their lives take different paths in high school. Josie joins the popular crowd while Peter remains the bullied kid tormented by Josie’s friends. The friendship that used to exist between Peter and Josie plays a key role in how the lives of both students end up. At the end, they are entwined for life by an interesting twisting revealed in the final chapter of the book. Interestingly, Josie is one of the survivors who were spared by Peter. However, she claims not to remember the incident and hence cannot be much help to the prosecutor’s team.

There are interesting similarities between this book and ‘the pact’ in that both stories have main characters being teenagers accused of murder and spending sometime in incarceration. Interestingly, the lawyer in both books is Jordan McAfee assisted by Selena who is now married to Jordan. I liked the pact since there was a lot of suspense in trying to find out what really happened. This is not the case with nineteen minutes.

I thought that the background was overdone by Jodi, the story dragged on so much with no new information and so I found myself skipping ahead. It was clear from the first chapters that Peter had committed the crime, this was motivated by bullying and there was little or no chance of an acquittal hence not much suspense really. I also failed to sympathize with the character, Peter. The bullying was sad but I didn’t quite get his actions, they seemed extreme especially the fact that he killed even students who had nothing to do with the bullying. His reaction to the deaths and also to the demise of his brother Joey portrayed him almost as a psychopath so he didn’t evoke much sympathy.

The reason as to why I kept reading the book to the end was to find out if there were other reasons for Peter’s decision to commit his crimes. I was also curious about the death of Josie’s boyfriend, Matt and the reason behind Peter sparing Josie despite the fact that she was friends with his bullies. The part that got me all excited was when Josie ‘regained’ her memory and it seemed that not all was black and white and that perhaps something else happened at the shooting. This turned out to be the biggest twist. As a matter of fact, I enjoyed the second part of the book which was fast paced and suspensful.

I am a bit confused by this book. I had read a few reviews before starting on it and most had described it as ‘the most riveting book’ by Jodi. I also found out that it was a best seller. I have a different opinion from these reviewers. The Pact and My Sister’s Keeper were better reads for me. I think the reason as to why other people loved the book so much is because it covered school shootings, a sensitive and controversial issue that is a reality is some countries like America. It’s a fear that they have and for some, it’s an experience that they may have shared.It also touched on bullying, a topic that a lot of people can relate to.

I live in a world where school shootings are something unimaginable. They have never happened, guns are only owned by law enforcers and crooks and not civilians and it’s hard to imagine this as a reality in Africa. This is not because it can never happen but because it has never occurred so right now it seems inconceivable. However, I watched international news with the rest of the world and saw the devastation caused at Columbine, Sandy Hook Elementary, Columbine and Virginia Tech and so I have an idea of the devastation that this can cause to everyone touched by it. I also remember watching an episode of Sons of Anarchy season 6, episode 1 which got a lot of people furious at Kutt Sutter due to a scene of a school shooting. I guess this why people were quite moved by Nineteen Minutes by Jodi Picoult. It was close to home for many readers.

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