Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Nineteen Minutes

Nineteen Minutes by Jodi Picoult

Wow. This is far and away my favorite novel by Jodi Picoult to date. It was heartbreaking, yet so real and relatable. I couldn't turn the pages fast enough as I was desperate to know what was going to happen next, eager to find the hope that could lie on the very next page. This book was particularly difficult for me to read since it does center around a Columbine-like school shooting where 10 people are killed. It's painful to read as a teacher, but even more excruciating to read as a parent. I found myself putting myself in the shoes of the parents whose children were killed, but even worse was identifying with the parents of the shooter. How well do we know our kids? How do we know that we are doing all the "right" things to make sure that they turn out well? Questions like these were even more scary to me than trying to make sense out of the bullets flying in the cafeteria.

So, Nineteen Minutes is set in Sterling, New Hampshire. The small town is shaken to its core when 17 year old Peter Houghton enters the high school one morning with 4 loaded guns and proceeds to go on a firing spree throughout the school, ending in the deaths of 10 people. The whole shooting lasts only nineteen minutes, but the events that took place during that time are, of course, significant enough to change the lives of the entire town. What's so enthralling about this novel is that Picoult doesn't just focus on the shooting itself and its aftermath. Instead, she jumps around in time, visiting the kindergarden years of the shooter and his childhood experiences. She takes us into the life of Josie, the daughter of a judge who struggles with something all too familiar to today's teen: wanting to be popular and what it costs. While Peter is being bullied and tormented in ways that made me want to cry, Josie's plight of continuously denying her own identity in the effort to fit in and "play the role" was just as painful. One of my favorite lines from the book that really illustrates how the dividing line between the "classes" in high school is drawn creates a clear picture of the world these characters (and we) live in: "Because if there isn't a them, there can't be an us."

It's hard for me to even put into words how much this book grabbed me and wouldn't let go. As a parent, as an educator, as a former high school student, there were so many ways that I could identify with this book. I'm almost hesitant to read another Picoult for a while so that I don't set myself up to be disappointed! Read this one!

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