Tuesday, April 20, 2010
I continue swiftly along on my Jodi Picoult rampage (if one can call cruising through an author's set of books a rampage). Last week I finished Nineteen Minutes, a novel focusing on bullying and school shootings. I really seem to enjoy her stories that center around teenagers in tough situations. Maybe I can relate more to them because I work in a setting concerning teenagers. Anyway, this one really spoke to me (again, maybe it's because I work in a school).
I haven't seen a school shooting book come out yet. It's almost like it's too soon for someone to touch this subject after recent school shootings, but I think Picoult does a good job at understanding WHY shootings could happen. She really goes back into the past to anaylze the years it takes to build up to something this devastating. And normally, like she shows, it's something that builds, and it takes a bunch of people to contribute to the pain that festers inside to make someone commit such a heinous act.
Before I start, why would the first cover posted above be the best choice for a cover for this book? The focus is not about love. This makes it look like a teen romance book. If anything, it's anti-that. It shows bad teenage love. It's more about pain and suffering at the hands of bullying. Why have this one then? I say, BAD CHOICE!
Ninteen Minutes is a clever name for the novel. Nineteen students are killed, which alludes to the title right off the bat. However, I really like how Picoult opens the book. She lists off anything that can potentially happen in nineteen minutes:
"In nineteen minutes, you can mow the front lawn; color your hair; watch a third of a hockey game. In nineteen minutes, you can bake scones or get a tooth filled by a dentist; you can fold laundry for a family of five. Nineteen minutes is how long it took the Tennessee Titans to sell out of tickets to the playoffs. It’s the amount of time it takes to listen to the Yes song 'Close to the Edge.' It’s the length of a sitcom, minus the commercials. It’s the driving distance from the Vermont border to the town of Sterling, NH. In nineteen minutes, you can order a pizza and get it delivered. You can read a story to a child or have your oil changed. You can walk two miles. You can sew a hem. In nineteen minutes, you can stop the world; or you
can just jump off it. In nineteen minutes, you can get revenge."
In nineteen minutes, Peter Houghton invades the school and seeks revenge on those who bullied him.
The novel skips back and forth from the present to the past as the reader discovers why this shooting happened and discovers all of the pieces to the puzzle about the shooting itself. Like other Picoult novels, there is a mystery twist at the end (concerning the shooting) that changes EVERYTHING in the book. Honestly, I didn't see this coming in the slightest. She normally has a twist, but this one came from left field. In retrospect, I could've seen it. She was really building up to it. But afterwards, it makes a lot of sense.
Peter was a troubled kid, picked on by boys ever since his first day of kindergarten when his lunch box is tossed off the school bus. Throughout school, he had little support from administration who did not heavily punish the boys who tormented him. He even had an elementary school teacher who encouraged Peter to stand up for himself and did not force the bullies to stop picking on him.
A much better cover:
Peter's mother tried to make Peter fit in, but he just wasn't suited for it. She made him join the soccer team, which led to more embarassment and teasing from teammates, especially since he never played. He was picked on in the showers for being so small. And even worse for Peter was his older brother Joey, the perfect son who Peter could never live up to. He was an athlete, a smart guy, a popular guy--one who even picked on his little brother in school to save his own reputation. Unfortunately, Joey is killed by a drunk driver, making him almost become a saint. Part of this adds to Peter's pressure which leads up to the shooting.
In addition, the past connects Peter with Josie Cormier (daughter of the judge Alex Cormier) as good friends. Peter and Josie were childhood friends until Peter showed Josie his father's rifles (the ones he uses to shoot later on when he is a junior). Alex forbids Josie to play with Peter anymore even though they remain friends until they are in sixth grade. Josie starts to hang out with the popular crowd, and their friendship deteriorates.
Another level is added to the mix because of their dismantled friendship. Peter's mother, Lacy, was Alex's midwife and coached her into having Josie even though she was a single mother and aspiring judge. They became friends through this struggle. This paints the history of Alex's troubled relationship with Josie's father, her law professor, who she eventually beats out to receive the position of judge. Their friendship breaks apart when Peter's and Josie's does, but it sparks up a little bit at the end when Alex starts to smypathize with Peter during the trial.
Before the shooting, Josie was going out with Matt Royston, one of the victims. He severely teased Peter, even pulling his pants down in the cafeteria in front of everyone. On another occasion, his group of friends sent out Peter's love letter to Josie (since he had a crush on her) to the entire school. This made Peter look like a fool. This incident triggered some of the deaths on the day of the school shooting.
Some other percursors were linked to the possibility of him becoming a shooter as well: He created his own violent video games on the computer. They were about going into a school and shooting. He set fire to a dumpster at work and then wrote about it during school (Josie told on him which further severed their relationship--but they do make up in a jammed elevator where she lets him kiss her briefly). His father took him hunting which is where he developed his shooting skills. His father then feels tremendous guilt that he cannot shake for the duration of the novel.
In addition, the novel focuses on Josie's relationship with Matt and trying to fit into the popular crowd. She really sees these people for the shallow teens that they are. She hates how they pick on people, but she doesn't want to turn on them because then they would turn on her. She doesn't want to become a target. Matt is also abusive to her, physically harming her and then taking advantage of her sexually. He has moments where he sort of seems to care about her, but the relationship is really shallow and he is really selfish. He doesn't even care when she becomes pregnant and miscarriages. Josie's actions in the end have a purpose based on this information.
In terms of the shooting, Peter came into the school not really planned and killed students who bullied him and some random students as well. He killed a history teacher who was gay (perhaps to hide the fact that he caught Peter at a gay bar trying to figure out his own sexuality). If Peter WAS gay, which he wasn't, that would add another layer to the teasing and bullying. I think Peter must have been bisexual. Anyway, he sat down in the cafeteria to have a bowl of cereal and then continued to shoot victims. I think he stopped because it was the only time in school where he felt in control and where no one would bother or tease him (even though that sounds sick).
And as for the twist (SPOILER ALERT): Josie admits on the stand to killing Matt Royston. The way that the bullets were found in the locker room at the end of the novel make it impossible for Peter to take the blame for it. Josie is standing face to face with Peter and Matt when a gun slips out of Peter's backpack. Matt yells for Josie to shoot Peter, but she turns and shoots Matt in the chest. Matt is laying there dying, and Josie panicks and asks Peter to do something. Peter shoots him in the head, and they both faint before Peter could kill himself--what he wanted to do originally. It is hinted at the end of the novel that Peter does kill himself in prison. Josie is sentenced to five years in prison and her mother visits her.
Josie's mother Alex, during the novel, engages in a romance with Patrick, the lead police chief on the case. Alex eventually steps off the case, yet the two are still romantically intertwined. Apparently Patrick was a character in another novel of Picoult's, but he finally seeks his closure with Alex as they prepare to have a child at the end of the novel.
End of SPOILER.
I thought the topic was a really good one to discuss with others. Picoult gets inside the mind of a troubled victim to make us see why something like this might occur. It also points a finger at the tormentors who never got in trouble for being extremely cruel. It explains WHY bullies pick on others and the effect it has on those bullied. I found that exploration to be very interesting.
Picoult also focuses on the life of a judge, which I enjoyed. I never thought of the judge's perspective before, and the female judge's perspective was interesting. Alex kept connecting back her role as a mother to that of a judge which made awesome connections throughout.
Picoult does a great job sequencing of time to keep you hooked. We keep switching perspectives of characters to make the plot well-rounded. Then we keep going forward and backward which adds more layers to the characters and their stories. Of all the Picoult novels I've read, this was definitely one of the best. I was hooked on this one and couldn't stop reading it for days on end until I finally finished it.
Teens have so much to deal with. That transition that teens have when they go from childhood to teenage-hood when friends shift around and people become popular is hard. It hurts feelings. It makes people feel inferior. Being bullied is even harder. It's even more pathetic on the end of the bully because they need to make someone feel smaller than them because they have their own issues and insecurities.
I can't stand bullying. I can't stand seeing it in my classroom and I try my best to stop it when I can. But, the sad thing is, there is only so much that administration and teachers can do. Bullies can be smart, and they do it in places where there is little supervision like the locker room, the cafeteria, the halls, or the bus. Those areas are terrible targets for poor victims, and I feel bad that bullying is still a terrible problem. I don't even think it's one that can be stopped. People always want to have a hierarchy, and even if you hold programs on anti-bullying, it will still happen. Bullies don't peg themselves as bullies; they do it for psychological reasons that they may not even recognize. It's a sad cycle that I don't think will stop no matter how much we try.
But, we can at least try to be aware of it. Reading about the topic and dissecting WHY it happens (i.e. reading a book like this) is at least one step. Maybe if there is more discussion generated, more awareness can help more preventing--not to stop it completely. That would be a dream.
So what do you think of Nineteen Minutes?