In nineteen minutes, you can get revenge . . .
Nineteen Minutes deals with a town, a school shooting, and a boy named Peter Houghton, bullied since the day he started Kindergarten. In Picoult's signature style, we hear the thoughts of multiple characters throughout the story.
The introductory chapters are some of the most suspenseful writing you will ever read. We meet Josie, a girl who looks perfect on the outside but is drowning on the inside. She's getting ready for school at Sterling High. She's dating Matt Royston, one of the most popular boys in school, but plans how she will commit suicide when she is discovered to be the fake she knows she is.
We meet Alex Cormier, her mother, a Supreme Court judge who is more comfortable on the bench than in the mother role.
We meet Lacey Houghton, a midwife. She treasure her comfortable home and role as a wife and mother.
And we meet Peter. When we first meet him, he wakes up and goes to his computer to read email messages, only to see something on his screen he never wanted to see again. We don't know what it is or why it upsets him.
We get a few scenes of a regular school day. Next thing you know, Sterling High School is in a panic because shots were fired. The detective on duty, Patrick Dushan, runs into the building processing a huge crime scene while he is trying to apprehend the shooter. We see the sights of blood, cowering students, and interrupted class activities. We hear the gunshots. We are in the middle of the action when Patrick finally tracks down the shooter in the gym locker room.
The shooter is Peter Houghton, a slight boy with delicate features. What would cause Peter to do such a thing? The only thing he says is, "They started it."
The rest of the tale is spun by scenes from the present and the past, from multiple characters, but mostly the four mentioned above. We hear how Lacey and Alex met, and Lacey delivered Josie. We learn Peter's story and what forces influenced him to act the way he did. We see Peter pushed, tripped, punched, de-pantsed, and humiliated. What keeps us reading is that Picoult wisely hides two pieces of information until the end. We don't know what happened in the locker room when Peter shot Matt and Josie walked away with only a scratch. And we don't know what Peter saw on his computer that day.
Picoult is a master writer. Who else could create a story where the most sympathetic character is a teenage boy who walked into a school building and gunned down ten people? Peter was bullied from day one, and we want his tormentors to face the music. We want them to take responsibility for their actions. Of course, not all the victims were bullies, but every painful step of Peter's walk is torture to us. Teachers seem oblivious to his suffering. Even his parents aren't always an ally.
The character hardest to empathize with is Josie Cormier, who used to be Peter's best and only friend in grade school. Now, in the present she has committed the worst type of treason, sleeping with the enemy. She runs in the popular crowd, which contained Matt Royston and Drew, Peter's enemy number one and two. She dates Matt and doesn't stand up for Peter. She is so afraid of being kicked out of the group herself, that she forgets what real friendship is like. She knows her position is unstable and is based on putting others down. When she asks Matt why he has to treat Peter that way, he tells her, "If there isn't a 'them,' then there can't be an 'us'."
I enjoyed this work as much as Picoult's My Sister's Keeper. In this one book, there is court drama, love stories, friendship, betrayal, and the story a town that can't seem to get past that day. I wanted a little more sympathy for Peter from the town. They were all so ready to crucify him, and even when his torture is revealed in court, little sympathy is gained. This book contains scenes of sexuality and some language. It is appropriate for ages 17 and up.