Friday, August 28, 2009

"Nineteen Minutes" by Jodi Picoult

Nineteen minutes—that’s all it took for a boy to shoot his way through his small-town high school, kill one teacher and ten students and wound many more. It’s the length of time it took for the police to be called, siren their way to the school and race through the scared, wounded and dead before apprehending the shooter. That’s all it took to change some lives forever.

As we are lead through the aftermath of the tragedy and through the trial from the perspective of several key people, the author takes us back to the beginnings. What would possess a teenager to wreak such carnage? Why did he make a special note to spare one girl?

At the end of her acknowledgements, Picoult writes: “...to all the thousands of kids out there who are a little bit different, a little bit scared, a little bit unpopular: this one’s for you.” Perhaps it’s because I was one of those thousands that this book resonated so clearly in me. It’s a story that discusses what we do to be accepted and what we do when we’re rejected—two themes predominant in my own story. I’ve always been different. I wasn’t always aware of how different I was and yet I knew I was. Still am, I think.

I think of my next sister younger than me. She had even more strikes against her with the scar that covered half her face. I miss her so much these days, yet I may have been the one who was cruellest to her—not because of her scar but because I wasn’t mature enough to know how else to enforce rules when I was left in charge. Neither of us charged through our school with a gun but in the end, she took her own life and I’ve been close to it at times.

These days, I defend others because in doing so, I defend myself. I help others because I’ve been in need of help. I’ve chosen to not mistreat others because I’ve been mistreated. The one exception is my husband Tom. For some reason, I have difficulty extending these kindnesses to him.

After I thought through some of these connections between the book and myself, I began to feel sick and a big knot formed in my abdomen. These are obviously issues I have yet to work out completely in my own life. Judi Picoult is an excellent writer who examines current-day ethics in an honest, forthright and clarifying manner and helps her readers see a situation from many sides. She’s good reading.

The one caveat about her books is that she manages to insert two or three sex scenes in each one. Normally I won’t touch such books—they’re too much of a temptation for me—but she is very circumspect (I want to say “chaste” but that’s a contradiction) in the ways she writes these and isn’t given to bawdy details or erotica so I haven’t found them to be a problem yet.

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