Nineteen Minutes by Jodi Picoult

‘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 a mile. 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.’

This is yet another novel by Jodi Picoult, author of Vanishing Acts, Plain Truth, The Tenth Circle and My Sister’s Keeper (now a major film), to name a few. Fans of Picoult will already be familiar with the fact that she loves writing about controversial or moral dramas. This particular novel, Nineteen Minutes, about a school shooting incident in a small town in New Hampshire, will not disappoint.

Alex Cormier, a judge and a single parent, is horrified to be called while at work one day and told that there has been a shooting incident at her teenage daughter’s Josie Cormier’s, school and she is one of the victims. Although Josie is hospitalized, she survives the shooting, unlike ten other people, including the teacher who dies due to the attack. Everyone, especially the parents of the assailant, are shocked to find out who the shooter was- Peter Houghton, a quiet boy who had been bullied and teased mercilessly since Kindergarten. What everyone doesn’t realize is that Peter had been a victim too, all his life. As the judge sitting on his trial, Alex is uncertain of her ability to be impartial to this case, especially since Josie is shattered by the whole incident and although she could be the best witness, she cannot remember what happened. The novel goes back and forth between past and present, outlining the complete story of what took place in all those years leading up to the trial, and what takes place after. How does someone become a murderer? Picoult has explored this very real question in this fantastic masterpiece.

The different characters- Peter, his parents, Alex, Josie and the lawyer defending Peter- all take turns to narrate their part in the story. Each chapter is narrated by a different character, giving the reader a clear picture of everyone’s points of view. At the beginning of each chapter, there is also a short paragraph that one character seems to be writing to another, and although these characters are never revealed, it holds the story together, making it more emotional and moving for the reader.

The characters are beautifully depicted and so realistically portrayed that they are not unlike anybody else and easy to relate to.  Anyone can relate to those characters, and each and every one of them plays an important role in the story. Jodi Picoult has done an amazing job of showing us how there is no black and white when it comes to people, and that in reality, we are all shades of gray. If the killer is a bad person, then what about all the people who victimized him?

The whole novel is fast-paced and full of twists; it will keep one up the whole night. Picoult also gives us excellent insight on how a courtroom works and the life of people inside jail. She did a lot of research before writing this novel, interviewing victims of actual school shootings, and therefore her story is a very real one in today’s world.

This beautifully written, poignant and moving story is definitely a must- read, and although it doesn’t have a golden, happy-family kind of ending, it does leave the reader with a lot of thought-provoking questions. The complex layers of the novel will make one start questioning the lives that we lead today. Perhaps the most unique thing about this book is not that it explores a relevant tragedy in and its impact on people, but on how it looks deep into the mind and the life of a killer, reminding us that once, murderers were also people like us, and that they are somebody’s children too. This is a story that doesn’t just end on the last page; it lingers in your head long after.

Niyantri Ravindran