Nineteen Minutes - Jodi Picoult

"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... In nineteen minutes you can get revenge"

Genre: Fiction, Crime, Courtroom Drama
Publisher: Allen & Unwin
Year: 2007
Rating: 4/5

So begins Jodi Picoult's 14th novel, Nineteen Minutes. Set in a small town in the aftermath of a school shooting, this novel looks at how such an event can impact on the lives of those involved; the injured, the survivors, the family of those who were killed, and the town as a whole.

It also traces the life of the young shooter. What happened to him to turn him into someone who could walk into a school with four guns, and kill ten of his fellow students?

Peter Houghton has been bullied for twelve years. His whole school life has been one attack after another ranging from verbal to physical. Being a kid isn't easy, but being small and skinny with freckles and glasses basically makes him a target for bullies.

His only friend is Josie. Pretty, smart and kind, Josie is the only friend he needs. That is until Josie gets drawn into the 'popular' group in high school. Soon she ditches Peter because so is so desperate to fit in.

"Ask a random kid today if she wants to be popular and she'll tell you no. Even if the truth is that if she was in a desert dying of thirst and had the choice between a glass of water and instant popularity, she'd probably choose the latter."

Peter drifts through high school shunned by his peers, secretly holding a flame for Josie and suffering one humiliation after another. His biggest tormentor is Josie's boyfriend, Matt. Matt is possessive and jealous. When he finds out that Peter likes his girlfriend he takes particular offense and his reign of cruelty gets worse. One day, Peter just can't take it anymore and he snaps. 

There is plenty of evidence against Peter from the school shooting. There is no doubt that he committed this awful crime but the question is, why? 

Who is really to blame for this? Is Peter, the shooter the only person to blame? Can there really be any justification for murder? Are his parents to blame for lack of attention or for pushing him too hard to be the perfect son? Or, are the bullies who hounded Peter for his whole school life partly responsible for how Peter turned out? 

"When you don't fit in, you become superhuman. You can feel everyone else's eyes on you, stuck like Velcro. You can hear a whisper about you from a mile away. You can disappear, even when it looks like you're still standing right there. You can scream, and nobody hears a sound.  You become the mutant who fell into the vat of acid, the Joker who can't remove his mask, the bionic man who'smissing all his limbs and none of his heart. You are the thing that used to be normal, but that was so long ago, you can't even remember what it was like. "

I really enjoyed this novel. It asked some really important questions. All the characters in this novel were presented in a way which I was able to sympathise with. I felt sad for the children who lost their lives. I felt sad for their parents who would never again be able to kiss their children goodnight. I felt sad for the survivors who have to live with this trauma for the rest of their lives, with scars which are both physical and emotional.  I felt sad for Peter's parents who lost their son too, in a horrific way. And  lastly, I felt sad for Peter, who was pushed to the edge with no one there to help pull him to safety.

School shootings are such a tragedy but in my mind, not all that surprising. Schools are a battle ground for many children everyday. Bullies are always seeking out the weak, social status is everything and one small embarrassing moment can determine your social standing for the rest of your school days. Kids are cruel, have memories like elephants and will do anything necessary to uphold their own popularity and survive. Kids will become bullies just so they are not the ones being made fun of.

The acceptance of this kind of school culture is something that everyone should be held accountable for and it desperately needs to be changed. This novel provides much to think about.

Picoult does an excellent job of analysing this world and it is chilling in it's honesty. Like all Jodi Picoult novels it is an easy read. Her writing style is accessible and of course, she has her trademark twist at the end. A must read for Jodi Picoult fans, those who love a good courtroom drama or those of us who survived high school and lived to tell the tale.
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