Monday, June 16, 2014

Book Review - Nineteen Minutes

I heard about Jodi Picoult's Nineteen Minutes back in May when a NH parent complained his 14 year old daughter had to read it for school and he hadn't been notified despite some sexual content he found objectionable. I pretty much never agree with parents wanting to protect their teenagers from information contained in books - especially when that reading is taking place under adult supervision.

I still don't agree with this parent but, to be fair, the scene he objected to is a quite graphic description of teens having sex. I was never given anything remotely like this when I was in school. Nobody had sex in the classics I was assigned.

I mostly read this book to see why it's being assigned to high school students. The premise is that there has been a school shooting committed by a student who'd been bullied. I do think this book could open up conversation about bullying, gun control, and sexual consent - all issues kids should be thinking about.

The structure of the book is very clever. With multiple narrators, it shifts back in time before these particular children were even born, showing the events that shaped them. Of particular interest is the midwife and mother of the future shooter who delivers at least one future victim, befriending her mother. This structure allows Picoult to give several different perspectives without telling the reader what to think.

I don't know if Picoult typically writes from the perspective of teenagers, but it didn't work for me here. It seemed like a caricature of how adults think teens talk. Also, her use of metaphors and similes were universally awful. (No, the smile was not "as wide as the summer sun", the cop's new girlfriend doesn't remind him of "that first crocus you found in the snow." ) Her editor should have cut them all.

The book drags toward the end but I kept reading to find out what the hinted at plot twist would be. Actually, I had an idea what it could be, but thought "oh no, that's way too stupid." But, that's what it was. I won't give it away other than to tell you to imagine the worst plot twist possible. That's it.

I probably wouldn't recommend this book to a literature class. For the benefit of conversations it could inspire, it might work for health class or even politics. And that's coming from someone who wants high school students reading more books by women that have greater relevance to contemporary life.

But not this one.


  1. I read this book quite some time ago for a book club I belonged to. I did find it easy to read and it kept my attention. There were a couple of things in the book that didn't ring true to me. It's been a long time since I read it, but if I remember correctly, the mother of one of the students was briefly a judge in the case (which would never be allowed to happen in real life) and then that same mom is dating one of the investigators. Seemed like a huge conflict of interest to me by two professionals who should have known better. These were small points, but stuck with me. Overall, I enjoyed the book. It did spark some lively conversation among our book club members. Some hated it and some loved it. I didn't fall in love with the author's writing style and haven't picked up another Picoult book.

  2. One of the reasons I stopped reading Picoult was because of the terrible metaphors - something about snow on a hill looking like ladies petticoats (eugghh).

    1. they were really bad. every time she started with "it was like..." i had to brace myself.