Book Discussion: Nineteen Minutes

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Recently, Clara and I read both read Nineteen Minutes by Jodi Picoult, and since it was so terribly thought-provoking, we simply had to blog on it! Now, usually when we do this type of discussion post, we both end up getting sidetracked and going off on these random tangents, and nothing really gets discussed. That’s why we decided to use the discussion questions that were given at the end of Nineteen Minutes, which helped us stay on topic and talk about everything we wanted to. So, you know, 10 points to us.

This post will make 110% more sense if you’ve already read Nineteen Minutes. If you haven’t, you can read the Goodreads summary here, but just be warned that this post will contain all sorts of spoilers!!!

  1. As you were reading the book, did you find it difficult to remain objective about the judicial systems standing that every defendant (no matter how heinous his or her crime) has the right to a fair?

Clara: Yes (if the trail is actually fair). Part of what makes America such a great country is that everyone gets a chance to tell their side of the story. No matter who you are or what you’ve done, you still get a chance to explain. Usually, fair sentences are distributed.

Hermione: Of course—this is such a basic civil right that the idea of taking it away is almost unfathomable. Everyone deserves a fair trial. The thing that sort of got me, though, was when Jordon started talking about the guilty people he had gotten acquitted, simply because that was his job, and he was a good lawyer. But still—here are people who are believed to guilty by their own lawyer, and they are allowed to walk free. I suppose that if there was an overwhelming amount of evidence piled up against someone, it would stand to reason that their guilt would be obvious enough to earn them their punishment. But if you think about it, couldn’t the outcome of a court case depend less on the credibility of the evidence and more on the skill of the lawyer?

The court case in Nineteen minutes, though, was much less about proving guilt and more about figuring out why the crime had occurred, which is a whole different game.

Clara: To make this point in a way that is not totally confusing, I want to tell you a story. Meet Suzanne. She’s a pretty normal kid with a B+ average, a few friends, and a love of track. One day on her way home from school, she gets pulled into an alleyway, stabbed five times, and raped by a guy she’s never seen before in her life. Random Pedophilic Predator (from here on referred to as RPP) is caught, arrested, and brought to court. Suzanne is forced to relive her nightmare as a witness, and RPP doesn’t even go to jail for his whole life. He gets 25 years. Say the guy is 20. He’ll be out of prison when he’s 45. Unless he has some miraculous redemption in jail, he’ll come out with only one agenda: revenge on Suzanne. Suzanne will never sleep through the night again. The reason RPP didn’t get a life sentence? He was bullied as a child and was not in control of his actions. (Though there was another kid in RPP’s class who was bullied in the same way, and lived a perfectly normal life—but that’s a moot point). This is why I think the court system is screwed up.

Hermione: Well, I agree with you there. When you’re deciding whether or not someone is innocent, you look ONLY at their actions, nothing more. When you’re trying to help someone turn their life around, or you’re trying to help a criminal reform themselves, then and only then do you look at that person’s motives. A court case using a person’s motives as hardcore evidence is automatically not as sound as it could be. Legality shouldn’t be mixed with a lot of touchy-feeling liberalism.

  1. What empathy, if any, did you have for Peter both before and after the shooting?

Clara: I kinda felt bad for Peter, but I was angrier at the bullies than I was sorry for him. I just think that if Peter had stuck up for himself when the bullying started, it wouldn’t have gotten as bad as it did. Sometimes, I would want to give Peter a hug, but that empathy was overshadowed by the fact that I know that he kills 10 people and wounds 18 more. I also think Peter had no right to shoot people. I’ve been bullied before, in fairly nasty ways (granted I was never pantsed in the cafeteria), but do you see my high school all over the news because I blew up and shot a bunch of people? NOOOO. It’s hard to feel empathy for someone who becomes a psychopathic murderer!

Hermione: Okay, yes, I had some empathy for Peter. I mean, he never did anything to give all the jocks reason to start whaling on him—they just sort of picked him out as the weakest member of some metaphorical male wolf pack, and then all started biting at the runt. And getting your pants and your underwear yanked off in front of the entire cafeteria for really no reason—that’s just indescribably awful. And yet none of this—NONE OF THIS—justifies him bringing a gun to school and ending ten lives, wounding eighteen others, and then scarring countless kids with his actions. Yeah, Peter needs a counselor and some serious help, but he also needs to spend the rest of his life in jail.

  1. Josie admits she often witnessed Matt’s cruelty toward other students. Why, then, does it come as such a surprise to Josie when Matt abuses her verbally and physically? How much did you emphasize with Josie?

Clara: IDK why Josie was surprised. Maybe because she loved Matt, she would make excuses for him? Who knows. I didn’t have very much empathy for Josie and the Matt situation. Not only did Matt hit her, he was verbally demeaning and did creepy things while they were um… you know. The one time Josie did leave Matt because he was being a jerk, she came crawling back, telling herself his irrational psychotic behavior was her fault.

Hermione: Josie was one of those weird characters that I liked as a character—if she and I went to school together, I’d undoubtedly find her shallow and pretentious. Matt, however….is a different story. He was a psychotic control freak, and that’s not me exaggerating, that’s literally how he was portrayed in the book. Of course, we never got Matt’s perspective, just Josie’s view of Matt, but read between the lines a little, look at the subtle ways he bullied her—it was an abusive relationship to the T. He’d hit her, threaten her, belittle her, and then suddenly get all tender and protective, and treat her like she was the cat’s pajamas. Josie never really allowed herself to see just how much she was under Matt’s thumb—she was seventeen and in love, for pete’s sake. Everybody viewed Matt as the golden boy, so why would anyone suspect him of being so twisted? (One could say the same for Peter—just replace the “golden boy” part with “quiet, nerdy underdog” and it’s the exact same concept. Things not always being what they appear to be is definitely a major theme in the novel).

I guess Josie was so shocked when Matt started abusing her because she assumed that he compartmentalized his violence—beat up some kids, act like a jerk to them, and then become a totally different guy around his friends/girlfriend. The thing is, though, he…didn’t. He was just a jerk, 100% of the time.

  1. How accurate and believable did you find the author’s description of high school peer pressure and the quest for popularity?

Clara: Ummm…. I can’t really say. My high school is pretty small (about 280 kids) and there’s never really been any harsh bullying or vying for popularity like there was in the book. However, I have read other books about larger High Schools, and the descriptions pretty much match up.

Hermione: Clara…you think your high school is SMALL? Honey, my entire high school is roughly 90 kids—the size of one of your classes. But, like you, I have no idea how to answer this question. I have my earbuds in like 80% of time when I’m at school, so even if there is some sort of popularity quest-issue going on, I’m too busy listening to Styx and Boston to care. *mic drop peasants*

  1. Do you think that Lacy and Lewis were responsible for Peter´s actions?

Clara: No. I’m not saying that they didn’t make parenting mistakes with both of their sons, but honestly, what parent hasn’t? Their biggest mistake was trying to get Peter to be like Joey. I don’t think they really understood what a jerk Joey was, and how sick Peter was of hearing, “Why don’t you try this? I know Joey loved it when he was your age!” No wonder he cracked.

Hermione: I don’t know, really. It feels sort of wrong to judge people on their parenting job when I’ve never been a parent myself. I guess they should have paid a little more attention to the fact that Peter was listening to bands with names like “Death Wish” (which doesn’t speak of suicidal intentions at all, does it?) And both Lewis and Lacy were quite disconnected from Peter’s life. They just should have been more involved… I mean, Peter was always the odd duck type. He wasn’t the type of kid you’d just shove off a cliff hoping that he’d grows wings on the way down…And at the same time, how was Peter ever supposed to learn to defend himself? It’s not like he could throw <html insults target=“jocks”> </insults> at people!

Clara: Computing devices confuse me. <no comprendo= me> Is that how this game works?

  1. In the end, has justice been satisfactorily dealt to Peter and to Josie?

Clara: I think Peter got the end he deserved. He killed 10 people and didn’t deserve to be acquitted, but he also didn’t deserve to die. I don’t think Josie got a fair ending. Matt was an abusive boyfriend, but since Peter shot him, he was reduced to a martyr. Josie got 5 STINKIN’ YEARS in prison for shooting Matt in the stomach. That’s just not fair. Besides, how could you call that man-slaughter? Matt would have lived, that is until Peter SHOT HIM IN THE HEAD!!!!

Hermione: I agree with you there, Clara, although it feels weird saying Peter doesn’t deserve to die, since he’s like a school shooter and all. But still—I was not happy when he committed suicide at the end! I know it made sense, and it fit his character arc, but I guess I just wanted him to wake up and accept himself. Peter’s problem was that he was never satisfied—not with himself, or with his friendships (pathetic as they might have been), or with his place in the social hierarchy. Sure, he was probably doomed to be an outcast forever—he was pretty weird—but who cares!? He’d most likely end up making more money as a computer programmer than any of those jocks would if they got crummy coaching jobs or worked as telemarketers or something. He could have gone to college and found some lady who was into rich nerds and gotten married and had five kids and named them all after html tags. Instead, he gave up any future he might have had and turned himself into a killer because he couldn’t face reality.

  1. Who was your favorite character?

Hermione: Um, Jordan McAfee all the way. And his epically sassy wife Selena. I hated Alex, found Patrick horribly annoying, had mixed feelings towards Josie, and Lacy and Lewis were both total bores—so obviously I liked Jordan best.

Clara: Sadly, I would have to say Jordan too. There just wasn’t that many characters that I liked. And Jordan and Selena had swag.

  1. What are your thoughts on Jodi Picoult’s writing? Would you recommend this book to a fellow human?

Clara: Yes. Picoult was able to make you want to cry about the victims, and feel sorry for Peter at the same time.

Hermione: Jeez, Clara, could you write any less? But yes, I would also recommend this book to a friend—just as long as they were prepared for a lot of content (see our chart at the bottom of the post). Despite that, Nineteen Minutes is extremely thought-provoking, and its story is still very relevant! Schooling shootings are still popping up in the news, and reading a fictionalized account of one is a good way to grasp the pure magnitude of the effects of the shooting. As for Picoult’s writing—this is the 3rd book of hers I have read, and like the others (The Storyteller and My Sister’s Keeper), I was absolutely addicted. Her story flows like a chick-flick novel might—it’s accessible, dramatic, and easy to fall into. And yet her novels obviously cover very heavy and oftentimes horrific topics, which make for fantastic gateways into discussions such as these. The one thing that bugs me about her writing—and I noticed it in Nineteen Minutes in particular—is that subtly really isn’t her thing. Picoult uses a lot of direct characterization, telling the reading that Josie was this kind of person and so that’s why she acted like this and thought about that, instead of letting the reader figure it out for themselves. I can see the advantage of using that kind of writing in a story like this, but overall a little more show and a little less tell would have been nice. Don’t let that stop you, though, from reading Nineteen Minutes and forming your own opinion!

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Have you read Nineteen Minutes, or any other Jodi Picoult books? Did you like them? What are your thoughts on Nineteen Minutes, school shootings, and the American court system? Let’s chat (although chat seems to be kind of the wrong word for this sort of serious stuff) in the comments!

 

Graphic Violence Substantial—it’s a book about a schooling shooting, so…Descriptions are not overly graphic but they are disturbing
Sex At least three fairly graphic sex scenes
Homosexuality Jokes concerning homosexuals thrown around throughout the book, several gay and lesbian characters
Language Frequent cussing
Other Elements notice that Jodi Picoult is obviously a liberal, and she promotes her beliefs throughout the book—this isn’t bad or wrong, obviously, just something for the reader to be aware of

 

 

 

 

 

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