Monday, October 27, 2008

60. Nineteen Minutes

by Jodi Picoult

I read this one for my local book club. Once again Picoult tackles an issue in the news, this time school shootings. The nineteen minutes of the title is the amount of time it takes bullied Peter Houghton to kill ten at his high school. This is the story of that event, what led up to it, and the aftermath. Picoult creates memorable characters: Peter, his midwife mother Lacy and professor father Lewis, his former best friend Josie Cormier, and her mother Alex, a judge who used to be friends with Lacy. Characters from some of Picoult's previous books (ones I haven't read) reappear: defense lawyer Jordan McAfee and investigating cop Patrick Ducharme.

Picoult's writing made me really care about and feel empathy for Peter, a loner who is bullied to extremes by everyone, including the older brother his parents idolized, who was killed by a drunken driver a year earlier. Although I could not excuse what Peter did, I could understand how he was driven to it. I was also able to sympathize with Josie, the girl on the fringe of the "in" crowd, bullied herself by her popular jock boyfriend, being cruel to her old friend Peter in order to fit in, feeling guilty about it, but worried that if she doesn't, her so-called friends will turn on her.

The character who most touched me was Lacy, Peter's mom, wondering what it was she did "wrong." I saw a mother like me who did the best she could, making some mistakes along the way, whose only real error was blindness towards the cruelty of her oldest son. I loved this passage near the end of the book:
Everyone would remember Peter for nineteen minutes of his life, but what about the other nine million? Lacy would have to be the keeper of those, because it was the only way for that part of Peter to stay alive. For every recollection of him that involved a bullet or a scream, she would have a hundred others: of a little boy splashing in a pond, or riding a bicycle for the first time, or waving from the top of a jungle gym. Of a kiss good night, or a crayoned Mother's Day card, or a voice off-key in the shower. She would string them together—the moments when her child had been just like any other people's. She would wear them, precious pearls, every day of her life; because if she lost them, then the boy she had loved and raised and known would really be gone.
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Like the other Picoult novel I read, My Sister's Keeper, this story has a twist near the end, unlike that other book, this twist is believable. The book makes the reader consider the issues of bullying, high school peer pressure, the quest to be popular, and violent video games. Recommended.

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