Monday marked the tenth anniversary of the Columbine High School Massacre. Unknowingly, that same day I went to a book shop and bought ‘19 minutes’ which is about a school shooting. We all wish and hope that we will never be faced with such drama, heartbreak and loss, but the reality is it does happen, and for someone, somewhere, that nightmare will someday become a reality. 19 Minutes starts as most Jodi Picoult books do with paragraph introductions from various characters so we can work out their story and connections. We meet Alex, a supreme court judge, Josie, her seventeen year old daughter, one of the queen bees of eleventh grade, Josie’s kindergarten best friend Peter, who never quite fitted in, Patrick, a kind detective, Lewis, Peter’s father, a professor who invented the equation for happiness and Lacy, Peter’s mother, a midwife, Alex’s ex-best friend. We see what happens on that fateful morning, how no-one realised what was happening. How Peter left the house as normal, how the only way Lacy realised something was wrong was when she noticed Peter’s computer screen was turned off, but by then it was too late.
Peter entered the school after detonating a car bomb, and making every computer screen read ‘Ready or not… Here I come’. Nineteen minutes later, ten people were dead and caught before he could finish the job, Peter was taken into custody. The rest of the book follows the aftermath. Why, when Josie denies they were ever friends, was she the only on in her clique not shot? Why did Peter’s parents not suspect anything? What was it that finally drove Peter over the edge, killing those who had tormented him since kindergarten? How will Alex, who has known Peter since birth, be able to handle judging his case?
The book jumps back in time, first seventeen years, then forward at five year intervals until the present day. We see that Lacy and Lewis have already lost a son, their golden boy, at the hands of a drunk driver. What did they do that made them deserve this new tragedy? We see the town judge them harshly, even though they did not know it was going to happen.
It brings up many issues, most of them controversial, but makes you think of this tragedy in a way that you might not have before. You think about the shooter more than the victims, you see the victims in a light that’s not so nice, you see most things from the perspective of the shooter’s family… It really makes you think. I know last week I posted about my annoyance of Jodi Picoult books, but honestly, if you want to read one, read this. It brings an issue that is sometimes all too real into a town that’s just like yours. We’ve all been guilty of laughing at an outsider, making a joke on their behalf, completely ignoring someone we think of as ‘weird’ or ‘geeky’ and shunning them because they like DnD more than the Jonas Brothers, but after reading this book, you will think twice. You will see that it only takes ignorance over many years to make someone snap. You don’t have to be an outright bully to make someone feel bad about themselves, and although there must be many other factors to make someone do something as drastic as a school shooting, sometimes the little things can become one very big and devestating thing.
We all need to remember that a smile or a ‘hi! how are you?’ can mean the difference between life and death, and put that politeness into action…
frangipani princess xoxo
ps. 19 minutes is available at all good bookstores for around $23.