NINETEEN MINUTES is the novel that cemented the reputation of author Jodi Picoult, becoming her first book to debut at #1 on the New York Times Best Seller list. As everyone knows, NINETEEN MINUTES is about a school shooting, in which 17-year-old Peter Houghton opens fire on his classmates, killing ten, injuring nineteen.
But what makes this book so special is the exploration of Peter’s life, how this “different kid” who was the kind of sweet-natured boy (slow to notice social nuance) who becomes a magnet for teasing, had his lunch-box thrown out of the school bus on the first day of kindergarten, and then had to enjoy daily torture from his classmates for the ensuing eleven years.
The bullying started with his lunchbox. It progressed to slamming to the ground, tripping, beatings. It escalated to taunts, callous laughter, ridicule. It climaxed when his private email to a girl he loved was spammed around the school (by a female classmate).
In response to the news that Peter The Loser, Peter “Homo” loved his girlfriend, Jock Matt Royston came up behind un-athletic, slight Peter. To a background of vicious snickers, he hooked his thumbs into the loops of Peter’s jeans, forcibly removing them and his boxer shorts, exposing Peter’s genitals to the cutting, merciless eyes of his classmates.
Where were the adults? As in other Jodi Picoult novels, the adults in these teenage dramas are largely absent.
In the mistaken belief that they should be their children’s friends, not their parents, in the spirit of Liberty, Freedom & Privacy, the adults abandon their teenaged children. So High School becomes a place – NOT where learning takes place in a safe environment – but rather a breeding ground for intolerance, bigotry, cliques, office politics, and the tortuous navigation of intimacy by people with adult bodies and child minds.
For Peter, that final humiliation was too much. One day, reminded of this humiliating incident, Peter impulsively stuffed his weapons into his backpack and made for school. He never came home again.
If you wish to understand the psychology behind school shootings, or if, like me, you are foreign and just plain don’t get American high schools, this is the book for you. Five Stars. #jodipicoult #nineteenminutes