Publisher: Washington Square Press
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“They started it” is all Peter Haughton says after entering his high school armed with a gun, and killing several of his schoolmates while grievously injuring many more. Jodi Picoult who is known for presenting controversial and morally challenging issues through her novels, continues the tradition with “Nineteen minutes” in which she deals with a high-school shooting tragedy.
The novel is set in the ordinary town of Sterling in New Hampshire, where high school students of the Sterling High School are enjoying a normal day until Peter Haughton, a student of the school comes in and starts shooting. His actions have been triggered by years of bullying and alienation by his peers. The prime witness of the crime, Josie Cormier- who used to be Peter’s childhood friend- claims she cannot remember anything of the incident. A trial follows, but that is not where Picoult’s major focus lies. She takes us into the minds of the killer and all those affected by the crime. Her biggest success is that she makes us empathize with every single character and does not deliver stark judgments in favour of either the killer or the victims. At no point of time, can you reach a conclusion about who is right and who is wrong. As soon as you start tilting towards one side, she brings up a completely constrasting perspective and puts you back on the fence. The novel explores the fault lines in the parent-child bond and the power equation in peer relationships. It asks some very important questions, most importantly pertaining to those who are “different” and struggle to assimilate in the society. There are no definite answers, but Picoult does make us think.
The strength of the novel lies in its characters. They are solid and believable, each one right in their own way. There are many different perspectives through which Picoult views this one incident. The most important characteristic of her books is that she forces you to think beyond the obvious and look at the same issue through different angles. “Nineteen minutes” does not attempt to vilify anybody, be it the killer or the bullies. Criminals are not born, they are made. And Jodi Picoult shows us through this novel just how they are made.