19 Minutes by Jodi Picoult
Book description~ In Sterling, New Hampshire, 17-year-old high school student Peter Houghton has endured years of verbal and physical abuse at the hands of classmates. His best friend, Josie Cormier, succumbed to peer pressure and now hangs out with the popular crowd that often instigates the harassment. One final incident of bullying sends Peter over the edge and leads him to commit an act of violence that forever changes the lives of Sterling’s residents.
Even those who were not inside the school that morning find their lives in an upheaval, including Alex Cormier. The superior court judge assigned to the Houghton case, Alex—whose daughter, Josie, witnessed the events that unfolded—must decide whether or not to step down. She’s torn between presiding over the biggest case of her career and knowing that doing so will cause an even wider chasm in her relationship with her emotionally fragile daughter. Josie, meanwhile, claims she can’t remember what happened in the last fatal minutes of Peter’s rampage. Or can she? And Peter’s parents, Lacy and Lewis Houghton, ceaselessly examine the past to see what they might have said or done to compel their son to such extremes. Rich with psychological and social insight, Nineteen Minutes is a riveting, poignant, and thought-provoking novel that has at its center a haunting question. Do we ever really know someone?
Although it is now my favorite ‘Jodi book’, and the themes are chilling, this book truly haunted me. I had nightmares. I gesture to say you cannot close this book unaffected. In honor of attending Jodi’s book release event this week, I wanted to sink my teeth into this first, before I receive Jodi’s newest book in a few days.
Written in 2007, the main premises of this book are both the long-term effects of bullying, and a high school shooting that takes place in just 19 minutes, hence the title, both inside and outside the walls of a small New Hampshire town, as a direct result. Peter Houghton is the main character who is bullied from the moment he sets foot on the kindergarten bus on the first day of school. Peter never truly fit in, no matter what he did or tried. Worst part? The teachers turned a blind eye throughout the years and his parents tried to toughen him up. Although some kids had the capacity to survive the school years and grow up to be successful despite years of bullying, Peter was unfortunately not one of them. This book dares to expose the long-term effect of bullying, unaddressed, on not only a boy, but those around him.
“I think everything you need to know about the law you learn in kindergarten. You know: Don’t hit. Don’t take what’s not yours. Don’t kill people. Don’t rape them. Oh yeah, I remember that lesson. Right after snack time. You know what I mean, it’s a social contract.”
Jodi takes us all the way from Peter’s early years to the repercussions of his actions and everywhere in between. She does a meticulous job, as usual, of gently crafting the story, building intensity just right. Every character was purposeful and well-developed. In perfect ‘Jodi form’, we feel woven together with each character, although the entire story is told from 3rd person narrative. She is one of the most talented storytellers of our time. Unlike one of the many ‘Jodi books’ I read, I definitely did not predict how this story would end and enjoyed being along for the ride.
The story opened on the day everything changed, after the shooting occurred. The story quickly backed up. Seamlessly, chapter by chapter, piece by piece, from past to present, Jodi takes us from Peter’s first day of kindergarten, flipping back and forth, keeping the reader’s attention the whole way through. By the end, I was literally gasping for breath to know the truth about the sequence of events, about Peter’s inner thoughts, and watch as the entire community of Sterling, NH was brought to its knees during the Superior Court proceedings.
“The rest of us, we’re all like Peter. Some of us jut do a better job of hiding it. What’s the different between spending your life trying to be invisible, or pretending to be the person you think every one wants you to be? Either way, you’re faking. Alex thought of all the parties she’d ever gone to where the first question she was asked was ‘what do you do’? as if that were enough to define you. Nobody ever asked you who you really were, because that changed. You might be a judge or a mother or a dreamer. You might be a loner or a visionary or a pessimist. You might be the victim, and you might be the bully. You could be the parent and also the child. You might wound one day and heal the next.”
I can’t begin to fathom the depths of Jodi’s research for this novel; ballistics, legalese, detective work, child psychology, teen angst, and of course, the long-term effects of bullying and post traumatic stress disorder. There was certainly no shortage of controversy here folks. This book keeps you hooked from page one until the end and I cannot recommend it enough. If you take nothing away from this book, please try to lend a helping hand or if you see someone being targeted, please say something to someone. No one should suffer their life away in silence the way Peter did. Most of us were bullied at some point at different degrees. But we all handle stress and these outside forces differently. What if you could have only been the catalyst in someone’s life to change their path for the better? Hormones coursed through the halls in middle and high school all over the world. One action you take could have a ripple effect of positivity and hopefully prevent tragedy from happening to someone.
“It was simple to say that behind every terrible child stood a terrible parent, but what about the ones who had done the best they could? What about the ones, like Lacy, who had loved unconditionally, protected ferociously, cherished mightily, and still raised a murderer?”
We all have a favorite. What’s your favorite Jodi book?
5 down, 21 to go!