Friday, July 20, 2007

Nineteen Minutes by Jodi Picoult

I am now reading Jodi Picoult's newest book, Nineteen Minutes. The basis for this story -- the Columbine shooting -- is close to my heart, as I attended Chatfield, Columbine's sister school. Although I had graduated nearly two years before, I still lived in the area, and my sister was at Chatfield at the time of the shooting. Also, as my dad later pointed out, had we lived in the first house my parents made on offer on when we moved to the area, my sister would have been at Columbine for that shooting.

Having known Columbine students, including members of the so-called Trenchcoat Mafia, and having lived in Littleton for most of my life (including the years following the massacre), I of course was closer to the incident than most people who heard about it on the news. However, my own experiences with bullying and my feeling about public schools -- that they are far too lenient in dealing with it -- has also made me feel more invested in the social outcome following Columbine.

Picoult does a good job of exploring what a crisis such as a school shooting does to a small town or suburb. Although Littleton was not the kind of place where everyone knew everyone else -- as the small town in Picoult's novel is -- it was a sleepy suburb. Our schools were some of the best in the state, certainly in the county. We had soccer moms and straight-A students. No one would ever have dreamed that something as horrible as a school shooting could happen, and therefore the impact of the event created waves that rippled through the community for years afterward.

In Picoult's fictional high school shooting, she makes the shooter someone who has been bullied and virtually friendless all of his life, just like the real shooters in many of these incidents. Although I haven't finished the book yet, so far I think she does a superb job of turning the antagonist into a sympathetic character. I love that about Picoult -- that she can take a crime and put a human face on it, make you see the many facets of the act and the character who committed it.

In Nineteen Minutes, Picoult literally picks you up and drops you into the head of a chronically bullied child. If you haven't dealt with severe bullying on a daily basis, or if you can't understand why school shootings always precipitate an outcry against bullying in schools, you need to read this book -- if only to make you understand what might go through the head of a child bullied past the point of human tolerance.

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