Friday, May 18, 2007

Scared to Death: Picoult's Newest Targets School Shootings


Jodi Picoult has long been one of my favorite authors, so I was excited to pick up her newest, Nineteen Minutes. Picoult's subjects are always current, and this one is no exception - the novel concerns a shooting at a high school in fictional Sterling, New Hampshire. The tale is told by a number of Sterling's residents, including Alex Cormier, a superior court judge, who fully intends to sit the case although she is racked with guilt for choosing her career over her daughter; Josie Cormier, whose whole life changes because of the incident; Patrick Ducharme, the detective in charge of the case, who finds himself drawn to the tortured judge; Lacy Houghton, the mystified mother of the shooter; and, of course, the shooter himself. It's a testament to Picoult's ability as a writer that she can make all of these characters human and sympathetic. Even Peter, who coldly and systematically murders his classmates, becomes someone with whom the reader can identify. As each of the narrators tells his/her story, we gain a better understanding of how such an event can impact people's lives forever.

Picoult writes with such skill that the town of Sterling and its residents really do come alive. The reader can't help but be drawn in. The book's plotting is tight and perfectly-timed, each page leading expertly toward a suspenseful and surprising end. Although it's a depressing story in many respects, it's a compelling read. The story itself is fast-paced and exciting, but it's the questions it proposes that are far more memorable and haunting. What leads a kid from a good home to kill? How do we put an end to the bullying so many kids endure day in and day out? How do we protect our schools and our children from violence?

Like all of Picoult's book, this one was well-written and thoroughly researched. My big beef with Nineteen Minutes is with its poor editing. There was a passage (page 39), for instance, where Lucy is first shown sitting on Peter's bed. Two paragraphs later, it reads, "Swallowing, Lacy walked into her son's room," although she was still presumedly in the room. In another spot, the wrong name is used. I know these are little things, but they interrupt the flow of the story, bursting the bubble readers create around them when they read. This is my biggest pet peeves. I've never noticed this flaw in Picoult's novels before, and I hope I never do again.

All in all, this wasn't one of my favorite Picoult novels. It is, however, worth the read, as Picoult is a masterful storyteller. I also think it's important for all of us (especially parents) to contemplate the issues presented in the book. That said, I have to warn you: This book scared me to death.

1 comment:

  1. I stumbled across your blog this afternoon... definitely have to bookmark it to look up future reads! I am in the middle of this book right now. It's my first book by this author, have to say it isn't one of the best books I've ever read. But I enjoyed reading your thoughts on it and I love your blog!

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