Nineteen Minutes

By Jodi Picoult
Binding:Paperback
Publisher:Washington Square Press, (2/5/2008)
Language:English



Average Rating:
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Jodi Picoult, bestselling author of My Sister's Keeper and The Tenth Circle, pens her most riveting book yet, with a startling and poignant story about the devastating aftermath of a small-town tragedy.

Sterling is an ordinary New Hampshire town where nothing ever happens--until the day its complacency is shattered by an act of violence. Josie Cormier, the daughter of the judge sitting on the case, should be the state's best witness, but she can't remember what happened before her very own eyes--or can she? As the trial progresses, fault lines between the high school and the adult community begin to show--destroying the closest of friendships and families. Nineteen Minutes asks what it means to be different in our society, who has the right to judge someone else, and whether anyone is ever really who they seem to be.

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"Nineteen Minutes"
By Jodi Picoult

Average Rating:
Unleash it
3.67 out of 5 (6 Clubie's ratings)


The Gentleman
The Gentleman
By Forrest Leo

 
 
 General reading guide discussion questions to be used with ANY book your book club or reading group might be discussing.
 
 
1. Alex and Lacy's friendship comes to an end when they discover Peter and Josie playing with guns in the Houghton house. Why does Alex decide that it's in Josie's best interest to keep her away from Peter? What significance is there to the fact that Alex is the first one to prevent Josie from being friends with Peter? 

2. Alex often has trouble separating her roles as a judge and a mother. How does this affect her relationship with Josie? Discuss whether or not Alex's job is more important to her than being a mother. 

3. A theme throughout the novel is the idea of masks and personas and pretending to be someone you're not. To which characters does this apply, and why? 

4. At one point defense attorney Jordan McAfee refers to himself as a "spin doctor," and he believes that at the end of Peter's trial he "will be either reviled or canonized" (250). What is your view of Jordan? As you were reading the book, did you find it difficult to remain objective about the judicial system's standing that every defendant (no matter how heinous his or her crime) has the right to a fair trial? 

5. Peter was a victim of bullying for twelve years at the hands of certain classmates, many of whom repeatedly tormented him. But he also shot and killed students he had never met or who had never done anything wrong to him. What empathy, if any, did you have for Peter both before and after the shooting? 

6. Josie and Peter were friends until the sixth grade. Is it understandable that Josie decided not to hang out with Peter in favor of the popular crowd? Why or why not? How accurate and believable did you find the author's depiction of high school peer pressure and the quest for popularity? Do you believe, as Picoult suggests, that even the popular kids are afraid that their own friends will turn on them? 

7. Josie admits she often witnessed Matt's cruelty toward other students. Why then does it come as such a surprise to Josie when Matt abuses her verbally and physically? How much did you empathize with Josie? 

8. Regarding Lacy, Patrick notes that "in a different way, this woman was a victim of her son's actions, too" (53). How much responsibility do Lewis and Lacy bear for Peter's actions? How about Lewis in particular, who taught his son how to handle guns and hunt? 

9. At one point during Peter's bullying, Lacy is encouraged by an elementary school teacher to force Peter to stand up for himself. She threatens to cancel his play dates with Josie if he doesn't fight back. How did you feel, when you read that scene? Do you blame Lacy for Peter's future actions because of it? Do you agree or disagree with the idea that it a parent's job to teach a child the skills necessary to defend himself? 

10. Discuss the novel's structure. In what ways do the alternating narratives between past and present enhance the story? How do the scenes in the past give you further insight into the characters and their actions, particularly Peter and Josie? 

11. When Patrick arrives at Sterling High after the shooting, "his entire body began to shake, knowing that for so many students and parents and citizens today, he had once again been too late" (24). Why does Patrick blame himself for not preventing an incident he had no way of knowing was going to happen? 

12. Dr. King, an expert witness for the defense, states that Peter was suffering from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder as a result of chronic victimization. "But a big part of it, too," he adds, "is the society that created both Peter and those bullies" (409). What reasons does Dr. King give to support his assertion that society is partly to blame for Peter's actions as well as those of the bullies? Do you agree with this? Why or why not? 

13. Why does Josie choose to shoot Matt instead of shooting Peter? Why does Peter remain silent about Josie's role in the shooting? In the end, has justice been satisfactorily dealt to Peter and to Josie? 

14. Discuss the very ending of the novel, which concludes on the one-year anniversary of the Sterling High shooting. Why do you suppose the author chose to leave readers with an image of Patrick and Alex, who is pregnant? In what way does the final image of the book predict the future? 

15. Shootings have occurred at a number of high schools across the country over the last several years. Did Nineteen Minutes make you think about these incidents in a more immediate way than reading about them in the newspaper or seeing coverage on television? How so? In what ways did the novel affect your opinion of the parties generally involved in school shootings -- perpetrators, victims, fellow students, teachers, parents, attorneys, and law enforcement officials? 

16. What do you think the author is proposing as the root of the problem of school violence? What have you heard, in the media and in political forums, as solutions? Do you think they will work? Why or why not? 


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Amazon.com Review
Best known for tackling controversial issues through richly told fictional accounts, Jodi Picoult's 14th novel, Nineteen Minutes, deals with the truth and consequences of a smalltown high-school shooting. Set in Sterling, New Hampshire, Picoult offers reads a glimpse of what would cause a 17-year-old to wake up one day, load his backpack with four guns, and kill nine students and one teacher in the span of nineteen minutes. As with any Picoult novel, the answers are never black and white, and it is her exceptional ability to blur the lines between right and wrong that make this author such a captivating storyteller.

On Peter Houghton's first day of kindergarten, he watched helplessly as an older boy ripped his lunch box out of his hands and threw it out the window. From that day on, his life was a series of humiliations, from having his pants pulled down in the cafeteria, to being called a freak at every turn. But can endless bullying justify murder? As Picoult attempts to answer this question, she shows us all sides of the equation, from the ruthless jock who loses his ability to speak after being shot in the head, to the mother who both blames and pities herself for producing what most would call a monster. Surrounding Peter's story is that of Josie Cormier, a former friend whose acceptance into the popular crowd hangs on a string that makes it impossible for her to reconcile her beliefs with her actions.

At times, Nineteen Minutes can seem tediously stereotypical-- jocks versus nerds, parent versus child, teacher versus student. Part of Picoult's gift is showing us the subtleties of these common dynamics, and the startling effects they often have on the moral landscape. As Peter's mother says at the end of this spellbinding novel, "Everyone would remember Peter for nineteen minutes of his life, but what about the other nine million?" --Gisele Toueg --This text refers to the Hardcover edition. 

From Publishers Weekly
Starred Review. Bestseller Picoult (My Sister's Keeper) takes on another contemporary hot-button issue in her brilliantly told new thriller, about a high school shooting. Peter Houghton, an alienated teen who has been bullied for years by the popular crowd, brings weapons to his high school in Sterling, N.H., one day and opens fire, killing 10 people. Flashbacks reveal how bullying caused Peter to retreat into a world of violent computer games. Alex Cormier, the judge assigned to Peter's case, tries to maintain her objectivity as she struggles to understand her daughter, Josie, one of the surviving witnesses of the shooting. The author's insights into her characters' deep-seated emotions brings this ripped-from-the-headlines read chillingly alive. (Mar.) 
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition. 

From The Washington Post
Reviewed by Frances Taliaferro

Early in Nineteen Minutes, Detective Patrick Ducharme walks through a deserted crime scene. Artifacts have been left behind: "the Wonder-bread sandwiches scarred by only one bite; the tub of Cherry Bomb lip gloss . . . the salt-and-pepper composition notebooks filled with study sheets on Aztec civilization and margin notes about the current one: I luv Zach S!!!" It's eerily ordinary -- until you notice the dead bodies.

This is the cafeteria of Sterling (N.H.) High School, shortly after a gunman has killed 10 people and wounded many others. His rampage lasted 19 minutes. As the prosecutor will later point out, "In nineteen minutes, you can mow the front lawn, color your hair, watch a third of a hockey game. You can bake scones or get a tooth filled by a dentist. You can fold laundry for a family of five. Or . . . you can bring the world to a screeching halt."

There's never any doubt that the gunman was Peter Houghton, a 17-year-old student. Hundreds of witnesses confirm it. Now, justice must be accomplished -- properly, and not by an angry mob. It won't be easy in this small town where everybody is connected. Peter's mother, for instance, is the midwife who delivered Josie Cormier. Peter and Josie were best friends until puberty hit and Josie became a "cool girl" while Peter remained a nerd. Matt Royston, Josie's dazzling boyfriend, was Peter's last victim. Josie's mother, Alex Cormier, is the judge who will try Peter's case -- unless she can be brought to recuse herself. And these are only the most salient connections. Dozens of others must be traced as the authorities piece together why the shooting happened.

Parent-child relationships are central to Nineteen Minutes. When you're a teenager, the fact of parents is unavoidable, even when they're not very good at being parents. For Josie's single mother, it's easy to be a judge and hard to be a mother; everything she says "comes out wrong." To Peter, his parents seem equally inept and obtuse. But then, most adolescents find their parents wanting; so how does a normal teenage worldview turn into a homicidal one?

As Picoult answers this question, the sociology of Sterling High School comes to life: nerds and jocks and brains, adults from another planet, school as heaven or hell. For many of us, high school meant self-discovery complicated by acne, prom anxiety and the perfidy of other teenagers. Though we've never been homecoming queen or most valuable player, we've made our peace with our own uncoolness. But at Sterling, a nerd doesn't have that relief. Bullying doesn't officially exist -- ask any grown-up -- but if you're a nerd, you know what to expect. At the very least, cool girls will look at you as if you were a bug on the windshield. If you're lucky, the abuse will be verbal: The guys will call you freak or homo or retard. On a bad day, they'll crush your glasses or stuff you into a locker. Torment could come from any direction at any time, and you live in the adolescent version of post-traumatic stress disorder. For some adult characters in the novel, this diagnosis is news, but no teenager would be surprised to hear it.

Certainly the reader is not surprised to hear about HIDE-N-SHRIEK, the video game Peter created, in which the underdog gets a chance to annihilate the bullies with weapons found in any school building. Peter's ingenuity is appalling and pathetic and almost valiant; like Josie, he's a person of moral complexity.

The adult characters, however, tend to be one-sided and given to making snappy comebacks with a frequency that's entertaining but not plausible. The judge has such gumption and good sense that her refrain of maternal inadequacy just doesn't ring true.

Picoult is the author of 13 other novels, most of them widely popular, but I came to Nineteen Minutes with no previous Picoult experience. It's absorbing and expertly made. On one level, it's a thriller, complete with dismaying carnage, urgent discoveries and 11th-hour revelations, but it also asks serious moral questions about the relationship between the weak and the strong, questions that provide what school people call "teachable moments." If compassion can be taught, Picoult may be just the one to teach it.

Copyright 2007, The Washington Post. All Rights Reserved. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition. 

From Bookmarks Magazine
"Nobody does 'ripped from the headlines' better than Picoult," claims the Christian Science Monitor, and in her 14th book she takes on the sensitive, disturbing topic of school shootings. This is a raw subject for many, and reviewers were quick to note that this intense novel is not for the squeamish. Fans of Picoult (My Sister's Keeper,***1/2 July/Aug 2004) will recognize the setting, some of the characters, and her trademark, jaw-dropping plot twists as she explores the events leading up to and following the tragedy. Reviewers applauded her ability to make readers sympathize as much with the shooter as with his targets, blending the lines of aggressor and victim with ease. Those who dare to venture into such dark territory will be richly rewarded. 
Copyright © 2004 Phillips & Nelson Media, Inc. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition. 

From Booklist
Popular and prolific Picoult (My Sister's Keeper, and The Tenth Circle , 2006) now tackles the troubling topic of a school shooting. Picoult considers the tragedy--in 19 quick minutes, 10 are dead and 19 are wounded--from several different perspectives, including that of the shooter, a troubled boy named Peter, who was mercilessly picked on at school. The small town of Sterling is rocked by the carnage. Alex Cormier is the superior court judge planning to hear the case, but her daughter, Josie, Peter's only friend during childhood but now a member of the in crowd, was in the midst of the melee. Peter spared Josie, but killed her boyfriend. Two characters from previous Picoult novels are also involved. Charismatic detective Patrick DuCharme rushes into the school and apprehends Peter, and Jordan McAfee agrees to defend the young killer. Every bit as gripping and moving as Picoult's previous novels, Nineteen Minutes will no doubt garner considerable attention for its controversial subject and twist ending. Kristine Huntley
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved --This text refers to the Hardcover edition. 

Review
"A master of the craft of storytelling."

-- AP Newswire

"Picoult spins fast-paced tales of family dysfunction, betrayal, and redemption.... [Her] depiction of these rites of contemporary adolescence is exceptional: unflinching, unjudgmental, utterly chilling."

-- The Washington Post

"Jodi Picoult's books explore all the shades of gray in a world too often judged in black and white."

-- St. Louis Post-Dispatch 



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Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.
March 6, 2007

In nineteen minutes, you can mow the front lawn, color your hair, watch a third of a hockey game. In nineteen minutes, you can bake scones or get a tooth filled by a dentist; you can fold laundry for a family of five.

Nineteen minutes is how long it took the Tennessee Titans to sell out of tickets to the play-offs. It's the length of a sitcom, minus the commercials. It's the driving distance from the Vermont border to the town of Sterling, New Hampshire.

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.

As usual, Alex Cormier was running late. It took thirty-two minutes to drive from her house in Sterling to the superior court in Grafton County, New Hampshire, and that was only if she speeded through Orford. She hurried downstairs in her stockings, carrying her heels and the files she'd brought home with her over the weekend. She twisted her thick copper hair into a knot and anchored it at the base of her neck with bobby pins, transforming herself into the person she needed to be before she left her house.

Alex had been a superior court judge now for thirty-four days. She'd believed that, having proved her mettle as a district court judge for the past five years, this time around the appointment might be easier. But at forty, she was still the youngest judge in the state. She still had to fight to establish herself as a fair justice -- her history as a public defender preceded her into her courtroom, and prosecutors assumed she'd side with the defense. When Alex had submitted her name years ago for the bench, it had been with the sincere desire to make sure people in this legal system were innocent until proven guilty. She just never anticipated that, as a judge, she might not be given the same benefit of the doubt.

The smell of freshly brewed coffee drew Alex into the kitchen. Her daughter was hunched over a steaming mug at the kitchen table, poring over a textbook. Josie looked exhausted -- her blue eyes were bloodshot; her chestnut hair was a knotty ponytail. "Tell me you haven't been up all night," Alex said.

Josie didn't even glance up. "I haven't been up all night," she parroted.

Alex poured herself a cup of coffee and slid into the chair across from her. "Honestly?"

"You asked me to tell you something," Josie said. "You didn't ask for the truth."

Alex frowned. "You shouldn't be drinking coffee."

"And you shouldn't be smoking cigarettes."

Alex felt her face heat up. "I don't -- "

"Mom," Josie sighed, "even when you open up the bathroom windows, I can still smell it on the towels." She glanced up, daring Alex to challenge her other vices.

Alex herself didn't have any other vices. She didn't have time for any vices. She would have liked to say that she knew with authority that Josie didn't have any vices, either, but she would only be making the same inference the rest of the world did when they met Josie: a pretty, popular, straight-A student who knew better than most the consequences of falling off the straight-and-narrow. A girl who was destined for great things. A young woman who was exactly what Alex had hoped her daughter would grow to become.

Josie had once been so proud to have a mother as a judge. Alex could remember Josie broadcasting her career to the tellers at the bank, the baggers in the grocery store, the flight attendants on planes. She'd ask Alex about her cases and her decisions. That had all changed three years ago, when Josie entered high school, and the tunnel of communication between them slowly bricked shut. Alex didn't necessarily think that Josie was hiding anything more than any other teenager, but it was different: a normal parent might metaphorically judge her child's friends, whereas Alex could do it legally.

"What's on the docket today?" Alex said.

"Unit test. What about you?"

"Arraignments," Alex replied. She squinted across the table, trying to read Josie's textbook upside down. "Chemistry?"

"Catalysts." Josie rubbed her temples. "Substances that speed up a reaction, but stay unchanged by it. Like if you've got carbon monoxide gas and hydrogen gas and you toss in zinc and chromium oxide, and...what's the matter?"

"Just having a little flashback of why I got a C in Orgo. Have you had breakfast?"

"Coffee," Josie said.

"Coffee doesn't count."

"It does when you're in a rush," Josie pointed out.

Alex weighed the costs of being even five minutes later, or getting another black mark against her in the cosmic good-parenting tally. Shouldn't a seventeen-year-old be able to take care of herself in the morning? Alex started pulling items out of the refrigerator: eggs, milk, bacon. "I once presided over an involuntary emergency admission at the state mental hospital for a woman who thought she was Emeril. Her husband had her committed when she put a pound of bacon in the blender and chased him around the kitchen with a knife, yelling Bam!"

Josie glanced up from her textbook. "For real?"

"Oh, believe me, I can't make these things up." Alex cracked an egg into a skillet. "When I asked her why she'd put a pound of bacon in the blender, she looked at me and said that she and I must just cook differently."

Josie stood up and leaned against the counter, watching her mother cook. Domesticity wasn't Alex's strong point -- she didn't know how to make a pot roast but was proud to have memorized the phone numbers of every pizza place and Chinese restaurant in Sterling that offered free delivery. "Relax," Alex said dryly. "I think I can do this without setting the house on fire."

But Josie took the skillet out of her hands and laid the strips of bacon in it, like sailors bunking tightly together. "How come you dress like that?" she asked.

Alex glanced down at her skirt, blouse, and heels and frowned. "Why? Is it too Margaret Thatcher?"

"No, I mean...why do you bother? No one knows what you have on under your robe. You could wear, like, pajama pants. Or that sweater you have from college that's got holes in the elbows."

"Whether or not people see it, I'm still expected to dress...well, judiciously."

A cloud passed over Josie's face, and she busied herself over the stove, as if Alex had somehow given the wrong answer. Alex stared at her daughter -- the bitten half-moon fingernails, the freckle behind her ear, the zigzag part in her hair -- and saw instead the toddler who'd wait at the babysitter's window at sundown, because she knew that was when Alex came to get her. "I've never worn pajamas to work," Alex admitted, "but I do sometimes close the door to chambers and take a nap on the floor."

A slow, surprised smile played over Josie's face. She held her mother's admission as if it were a butterfly lighting on her hand by accident: an event so startling you could not call attention to it without risking its loss. But there were miles to drive and defendants to arraign and chemical equations to interpret, and by the time Josie had set the bacon to drain on a pad of paper toweling, the moment had winged away.

"I still don't get why I have to eat breakfast if you don't," Josie muttered.

"Because you have to be a certain age to earn the right to ruin your own life." Alex pointed at the scrambled eggs Josie was mixing in the skillet. "Promise me you'll finish that?"

Josie met her gaze. "Promise."

"Then I'm headed out."

Alex grabbed her travel mug of coffee. By the time she backed her car out of the garage, her head was already focused on the decision she had to write that afternoon; the number of arraignments the clerk would have stuffed onto her docket; the motions that would have fallen like shadows across her desk between Friday afternoon and this morning. She was caught up in a world far away from home, where at that very moment her daughter scraped the scrambled eggs from the skillet into the trash can without ever taking a single bite.

Sometimes Josie thought of her life as a room with no doors and no windows. It was a sumptuous room, sure -- a room half the kids in Sterling High would have given their right arm to enter -- but it was also a room from which there really wasn't an escape. Either Josie was someone she didn't want to be, or she was someone who nobody wanted.

She lifted her face to the spray of the shower -- water she'd made so hot it raised red welts, stole breath, steamed windows. She counted to ten, and then finally ducked away from the stream to stand naked and dripping in front of the mirror. Her face was swollen and scarlet; her hair stuck to her shoulders in thick ropes. She turned sideways, scrutinized her flat belly, and sucked it in a little. She knew what Matt saw when he looked at her, what Courtney and Maddie and Brady and Haley and Drew all saw -- she just wished that she could see it, too. The problem was, when Josie looked in the mirror, she noticed what was underneath that raw skin, instead of what had been painted upon it.

She understood how she was supposed to look and supposed to act. She wore her dark hair long and straight; she dressed in Abercrombie & Fitch; she listened to Dashboard Confessional and Death Cab for Cutie. She liked feeling the eyes of other girls in the school when she sat in the cafeteria borrowing Courtney's makeup. She liked the way teachers already knew her name on the first day of class. She liked having guys stare at her when she walked down the hall with Matt's arm around her.

But there was a part of her that wondered what would happen if she let them all in on the secret -- that some mornings, it was hard to get out of bed and put on someone else's smile; that she was standing on air, a fake who laughed at all the right jokes and whispered all the right gossip and attracted the right guy, a fake who had nearly forgotten what it felt like to be real...and who, when you got right down to it, didn't want to remember, because it hurt even more than this.

There wasn't any... 

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JODI PICOULT is the author of sixteen novels, including the #1 New York Times bestsellers Change of Heart and Nineteen Minutes.She lives in New Hampshire with her husband and three children.


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