Nineteen Minutes by Jodi Picoult

March 6th 2007 starts off like any normal day at Sterling high School, New Hampshire.  All that changes when one of its students, Peter Houghton, walks into the school armed with guns and starts shooting people.  Ten people are killed and a further nineteen are seriously injured.  Peter has been bullied and victimised at school ever since he can remember, and it seems that when it all got too much for him, he snapped.

As the community of Sterling tries to come to terms with the aftermath of the horrific event, Peter’s family question what could have made their son do something like this, and if they missed any warning signs.

I thought this was a wonderful, compelling read.  Jodi Picoult always creates entirely believable characters, and I found myself caring for these people and eager to know how their individual stories would turn out.  Although a large number of key players in the story are introduced into the story very early on, it did not get confusing, and they were all instantly distinctive, with their own stories well told.

The main characters the story focuses on are Peter and his parents; Josie Cormier – former best friend of Peter’s and now the girlfriend of Matt Royston, one of Peter’s main tormentors and also one of the casualties of the shooting; Alex Cormier, Josie’s mother and the Judge likely to be sitting on the case; Patrick Ducharme – the policeman in charge of the investigation, (who apparently also features in an earlier book by the author), and who was my personal favourite character; and Jordan McAfee and his wife Selena – Jordan has the difficulty of being defence attorney at the trial.  Each of them have their own part to play in the tale and the shooting and subsequent trial causes them all to look at their lives in a new light.

The story is told in two parts.  The first part starts with the events of the day of the shooting, and then the narratives goes backward and forward; from years beforehand when Peter was a young child, taking in several stages of his life, up until very soon before the incident; and to various times afterward, which show the wheels being set in motion for Peter’s trial, and how fellow students are coping with the tragedy.  The second part concentrates on the trial itself, with just a few very short flashbacks to the day of the incident.

Clearly this is a very sensitive subject – sadly there will be very few people who would be able to read this book without being able to recall hearing of a similar incident in real life.  Jodi Picoult does a good job of examining what might lead up to such a horrific event, and also manages to create interest in and sympathy for each character, even including Peter himself.

Certainly a very thought provoking story, which made me want to explore the subject further.  It’s quite a thick book – just shy of 600 pages – but none of the story felt superfluous, and my interest was held throughout.  Highly recommended.

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