Friday, March 14, 2008

Nineteen Minutes-Jodie Piccoult (Caroline returns to her nice girl self.)

About a month ago, I was on a school trip. A couple of my friends and I were in a room together, so after we were reprimanded for our rowdiness, and after I had sufficiently injured myself jumping on the bed, and after Courtney had tricked our guy friends into thinking that someone had left alcohol in our room, we started to read. I was reading Pretty Little Devils, a book about murder and a high school clique. Allison was reading Nineteen Minutes. Because of the nature of my book, I was doing a lot of exaggerated gasping, and sometimes nervous around-the-room-glancing (hotel rooms creep me out). Allison, however, kept saying, "Aww."

Courtney, who had nothing to read, had been locked in a very loud silence. She was waiting for us to acknowledge the fact that she wasn't speaking and felt left out because she wasn't reading either. We were too caught up in the books, and plus didn't want to give her the satisfaction. But finally, after about the sixtieth "Aww", she asks. And Allison gets the huge sad/scary eyes that she likes to do in pictures a lot, and says, "Well, I know that he's a murderer, and he shot all these people, and he bombed this guy's car... but he's so cute!"

At the time, I was seriously baffled as to how a school shooter could possibly be cute, and doubted that it was anything except for Allison's tendency to believe that anything male at least has cute potential. It certainly sparked my interest, though, so when I finally got the book, I finally got... it.

Peter Houghton, disputably the main character of Nineteen Minutes, is a killer. Peter has been pushed, threatened, abused, called a fag and homo constantly since the sixth grade. He's been bullied at school by his own brother. He's been knocked to the ground for talking to another guy's girlfriend in a purely friendly way. He's lost his only best friend to the popular crowd. He's had a private email sent to the girl he likes(who is also the best friend and the other guy's girlfriend) spammed out to the entire school. And after seventeen years of this, Peter Houghton has had enough.

Peter walks into school on March 6th with four guns and a car bomb. He has enough ammunition to kill 198 people. He does kill 10, and wounds another 19, all in the course of nineteen minutes. In nineteen minutes, ten lives are over. Hundreds are altered forever. One of those altered lives belongs to Josie Cormier.

Josie, who was the the girl Peter loved; the other guy's girlfriend. The other guy, Matt Roysten, was killed in the shooting. He was the only victim shot twice: once in the stomach, one in the head. Josie, as you'll recall, was also Peter's best friend.

This is where the cute comes in. The book is not organized into chapters; it is organized into time periods. So lots of flashback. Hundred page sections of flashback. One of the flashbacks takes place twelve years before the shooting, when Josie and Peter were in kindergarden, and when Peter's Spiderman lunch box was stolen everyday and thrown out of the bus. There are many other tale's of Peter's struggles with bullying, even at such a young age, and I see now what Allison meant.

Peter Houghton is not cute in the way that I would usually call a book character cute. He's not sexy-cute, or crush-cute. He's lost puppy cute. Sweet little kid cute. Baby cousin cute. Peter Houghton is just so... sad.

Throughout the book, you get to know him as a child, as a younger teenager, and you forget that he is a murderer. You remember that Peter is a human being who went through school without being treated as one. You begin to see Peter as someone who wasn't evil or terrible or corrupt- he was someone who finally took a stand.

This is where Piccoult is trying to take you with this novel- and it's a scary place. A place no one wants to go. No one wants to think about school shootings, much less sympathise with the shooter. We see things in the news about these people and we shudder. How horrible, we think. What a monster.

The issue of judgement is one of the many things that the author addresses beautifully in this novel, without preaching in the slightest, and while effectively giving you every side of the story. You get to choose your own opinion in this novel- nothing is forced on you.

Some other things I love about the book: the cast of characters was completely brilliant, rich, and wonderful. Each character was unique and beautiful and flawed, and I found myself hating and loving and sympathising with each of the six perspectives that the book offered. I stepped into the heart, mind, and soul of each character and loved it, even if it was a disturbing place to be.
The plot in the book was excellent, and the climax- oh, God, the climax.

I also fell in love with Jodi Piccoult's style. Her emotion is heartwrenching, her voice is unique and perfectly adapted to each character. Her language is insanely gorgeous but never overdone. The entire thing was very realistic, which is one of the things that makes it so scary.
I've been vaguely uneasy walking down empty hallways, sitting in unlocked classrooms. The book was just... nervewracking, which was one of the things that I loved also. I like books that scare me.

The only complaint I had was the ending: for all of the emotion in the book, I think that it was kind of a disappointment. Everything was accepted a bit too calmly, which I wasn't crazy about.
All in all, though, this book scared me to death and made me think. It broke my heart and made me smile. And above all, it made me want to read more Jodie Piccoult.

Four and a half cups for this one, just because I hated the ending.



The Story Siren said...

this is one or my favorite books by picoult. it made me take a step back and look at the way i judge people.... i thought it was very memorable.

Chelsea said...

Ooh, I love Jodi Picoult. My Sister's Keeper is amazing. I reeally want to read Nineteen Minutes, though.

Excellent review. :)

Heather♥ said...

wow, really amazing review! you have to give me this book--you haven't given it back to allison, have you?

I'm trying to get My Sister's Keeper in my hands, but I can't seem to grab ahold of it. Working on it though.