Sometimes, I start a book and don’t finish it. Sometimes, I start a book then put it aside for a while and pick it up later. Usually, I’ll then have to start anew. Not with this book though. I started Nineteen Minutes sometime in December 2016, a library book which I had to bring back before I finished it. Then I didn’t read much and now it’s over a year later, and I finished it – without starting over. The characters just came back to me and the story itself I hadn’t forgotten. It’s haunting, in other words.
Here’s what happens:
Nineteen minutes are all it takes for Peter Houghton to kill 9 of his schoolmates and one teacher. 19 minutes to set up a pipe bomb, enter his school, and shoot a total of 29 people, traumatizing many more in the process.
But what happens after? Peter is still alive and awaits trial. The community of Sterling, New Hampshire is ripped open. Parents are struggling with their children’s mortality, Peter’s lawyer encounters the rage that follows loss, and Judge Alex Cormier has to ask herself what she needs to do to keep her daughter safe: convict a bullied boy who finally snapped, or listen to Josie tell her own story?
This book isn’t an easy read. Considering what happens in the world around us where school shootings are almost common now, and the NRA and their paid-for politicians want to arm teachers, it can’t be. But Nineteen Minutes is not about politics, it’s about loss and grief and also revenge. It’s about a community that struggles to come to terms with a horrible event and its aftermath. Because things don’t end when the perpetrator is in custody, it doesn’t even end with his conviction.
And just as the ending is never in sight, the beginning is just as difficult to pin down. Who started it? Was it the bully who pushed a smaller kid into a locker? Or the kid who then picked up a Glock 17 to make it all stop? Action and reaction, and the dramatic dealings of high school where even some of the cool kids feel bullied by their peers.
There’s a lot in this book, a lot of protagonists, a lot of drama, a lot of stories. Picoult does a great job of keeping it all together, tightly-knit, interesting, exciting. This book won’t let you go and it shouldn’t because Picoult raises many important questions and even gives some answers. Because there is never just one victim or one perpetrator – society creates its own tragedies.