Lois Clark-Johnston's Reviews > Nineteen Minutes

Nineteen Minutes by Jodi Picoult
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's review
Mar 07, 10

bookshelves: favorite-fiction, books-i-reread-in-2010, hard-copy-books-i-own
Read in February, 2009

I am almost done with this book-it is excellent but harrowing to read.
The author commits to the story line and the characters and even when you almost want her to back away from the messiness and the reality she hits you even harder.
This book explores a school shooting from the view point of the shooter, the victims, the parents of the victims, the small town, the detective, the judge handling the case, the lawyer prosecuting the case, the lawyer defending the shooter, the parents of the shooter.
I like that while the shooter is a victim of bullying from pre-school on and you really want to identify with him and feel sorry for him and like him-it does not work. It kind of reminds me of Native Sun and Bigger Thomas-you really want to feel sorry for Bigger and like him but he is just such an unlikeable character. I kind of feel that way with Peter. You can see how tortured he is for years, how his well meaning, loving, intelligent, active parents try to help him and it only makes it worse. You can see where the teachers and principals and school officials try to help but none of them seem to really get the situation. You can even see in Peter when he is finally offered an opportunity to bully and at first gleefully joins in but then sees himself in the victim. You can see how a misfit-picked on, dismissed by his parents and teachers and classmates, might see a school shooting as his way to get even. You can also see the loathing and hatred he feels for himself, the desire to fit in and be liked whatever the cost.
The bully's character is also explored, not as thoroughly, but some of the bullies are just students glad to be part of the in crowd and willing to hurt another student to maintain the status qua. You can see the true bully who feels he truly is raised by lowering others-you either are the bully or the one being bullied-he sees no other way to be.
It makes me think of High School and my own experience. I was never popular-being a person who has always walked to the beat of a different drummer-but I was not picked on and I had a few friends but they were good friends. Middle School was actually more difficult for me, as I spent that time discovering who I was and by the 8th grade had found an acceptance of who I was and was comfortable where I fit. I was always kind of in between-my parents are divorced, I was raised with my mom and step-father and my sister-their child together. So I know what it is like to not quite feel a part of your family in your own home. I went to school in Detroit but my mother is white and the challenges that brought. Add to that, that I just was not like other kids, ever, I was not interested in the same shows, I read alot and lived (and still live in fact) too much in my own head. I never felt slighted if I was not invited to the parties-I went if I was invited and if I was not I did not seem to care. I know my experience is not average. My best friend hated high school and fitting in was always important and difficult for her and as an adult I can see where it still effects her. I have a male friend who is different like I am and I can remember the look on his face when he talked about how awful high school was for him. He never gave specifics but he told me he hated every single minute of it, that it was 4 years of pure torture. I can not even imagine feeling that way and still having to go to school everyday.
Girls can be vicious, in a subversive evil way and it seems to carry on even as we are women. I did not realize how much until I worked in an environment where I was the only female and I saw how 2 men could not stand each other but work side by side and not try and sabotage each other. Which is very different from my experience in a largely female environment where my female co-workers all seem to be fren-emies. I think men tend to be more physical and are more prone to humiliate-as you see with the violence against gay men and transvestites. I think women cut with words and men cut with fists and humiliation. I am not sure which is preferable.
I think this book also explores the disconnect that happens between a parent and child as that child reaches their teen years. Or even before that, when you try as a parent in your own inept way to really help your child. It explores how much of parenting is guess work and trial and error. It explores the feeling that your child is different from you and you do not know how to connect to them, to help them though you can see they suffer and would do anything in your power to stop it. How complex the social issues our children experience are-even if we want to teach them to ignore the bullying or rise above the pettiness-how maybe that is not a reasonable option for them. How to reach a child that has gone astray. How a truly good mother and father could raise a killer without even realizing it. How we do not live in a vacuum and perhaps if as adults we really found a way to effectively deal with bullying and really understand the impact it has on our children-whether they internalize it and it effects their adult life, commit suicide or go on a shooting rampage. How do we reach these kids?-the bullies as well as the bullied. Clearly this is not an isolated issue as we have had shootings in high schools, grade schools and even colleges. What in our society breeds this type of discontent?
I finished the book-it was an emotional rollercoaster-I sobbed, my heart broke, nothing was black and white-only shades of grey. Unfortunately the author backed out with a shocking 11th hour confession-I have now read about 4 of her books and see this is just her writing style. It is too bad too because she is such a phenomenal world and character builder and she picks such controversial topics she could write true literature-the talent is there-but she backs off-at the end needing to tie up loose ends and a shocking confession that really makes no sense and takes away from the powerful value of the novel. The best novels that deal with controversial subject matter resist the urge to finish everything up in a neat little bow-I refer to her books conclusions as the Law & Order twist. Her books are still great and powerful beyond measure. Perhaps one day she will learn that the most greatest authors tell the most powerful stories by not finishing them and letting each reader take something different and in their mind create their own ends for the characters. That is the only reason she has 4 stars-otherwise she would have 4 thousand.....

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