Nineteen Minutes - Jodi Picoult
Released February 2008
I have this thing about book banning. After hearing on a local news station, that parents confronted an area high school and demanded that Nineteen Minutes be banned from the classroom, I decided I had to read it for myself.
I do agree that it's a parent's responsibility to monitor what their child reads, plays and watches. However, banning a book being taught in an English class because of the content seems a little absurd. Life, in general, is full of atrocities. Columbine happened and you can't make it go away. Even if parents think they can ban away fiction of this nature so that their teen doesn't know, you can guarantee that your teen is exposed to things ten times worse on a daily basis simply by watching the evening news.
If you were to ban every book that contained violent or graphic context, you'd have to remove To Kill a Mockingbird (rape and racism), Romeo and Juliet (suicide), Macbeth and Hamlet (murder), etc. The list goes on. I've read Nineteen Minutes and cried. Now it's in the hands of my 14-year-old who says the author's done a fantastic job capturing all aspects of bullying and the lack of response from teachers.
Nineteen Minutes takes place in small-town New Hampshire. Peter Houghton's been bullied since kindergarten by a variety of people, including his older brother. His first day of school started out with his lunch box being thrown out the window and nothing ever improved. He's now well into high school and the one person he could count on for protection has become one of the popular kids. Peter's reached his breaking point.
After one last targeted act of bullying pushes Peter over the edge, he goes to school with guns and targets those who made his life a living hell. The one person he counted on, the local judge's daughter, watches her friends die and blacks out the events. Whether or not Jodie will be a worthwhile witness is anyone's guess.
As a parent, I found myself torn. I felt horrible for everything Peter endured. I could sympathize with the actions that did push him over the edge. I was disheartened that the bullying was allowed to carry on for so long and teachers did little to stop it.
However, I also found myself feeling horrible for the victims. I can't imagine getting that call that my child's been killed by a peer that snapped. Jodi Picoult excels at creating a sympathetic situation where the reader clearly sympathizes with both sides of the picture.
Nineteen Minutes ends with a series of discussion questions. My teens and I have discussed the aspects of this book. One of the leading questions that we're still debating is how much responsibility should the bully take when his actions lead to causing another to snap and go on a rampage. It's an extremely interesting case and one that I feel is perfect for classrooms. It might help teens understand how their actions can impact the world around them--good or bad.