Friday, August 1, 2008

Thoughts on Nineteen Minutes by Jodi Picoult

I think I jumped on the Jodi Picoult bandwagon last summer. I've read a few of her books, including The Tenth Circle., Vanishing Acts and Picture Perfect. I really enjoy what a great storyteller Picoult is -- she creates very real, interesting characters, and you always seem to learn something about a certain topic in her books, too. For instance, in her book Plain Truth, the reader learns pretty much all she ever wanted to about the Amish -- and then some.

But none of her books have affected me quite like Nineteen Minutes, the story of a school shooting and what this tragic event does to the lives of those involved. One of the reasons I think this book resonated with me so much is because school shootings is something very real for our generation -- and something that really affected me.

On April 20, 1999, the day of the Columbine High School massacre, I was at home sick. I remember being on the couch, watching MTV, when John Norris interrupted whatever mindless show I was watching to report on the shootings. I remember having an awful feeling in the pit of my stomach.

A couple hours later, I went on AIM and was chatting with my friends who were in school that day. There were all these rumors flying around about someone bringing in a gun to our school the next day.

Despite physically feeling better, I was extremely afraid of returning to school the next day because of all the rumors going around, so I faked sick for an additional day and stayed home again.

Nothing happened the next day at school, although I heard security was heightened. That night I admitted to my mom that I was scared to go back to school. And my mom, being the smart cookie she is, told me something I often need to remind myself. She said that you don't have control over these things, and you can't live your life in fear. "There is only one April 21, 1999 ever. You never get that day back. You need to live every day to the fullest." (The irony of her saying this isn't lost on me... I pray to God this is how she lived her life, and she is happy how she spent it, because she technically can't live her life to the fullest anymore).

Even though what she said helped me and I went back to school, I was still scared. Throughout 8th and 9th grade, we had quite a few bomb scares at Northampton High School. And every time, even though I knew they were happening because kids just wanted to get out of school early, in the back of my mind I would be wondering if something was really happening -- because, of course, a school shooting could happen anywhere.

My generation (we're being called the "millenials") has grown up in fear, with school shootings and 9/11. It's so horrible that a place that should conjure up images of safety and security, a school, can be a place of so much violence.

Even after I graduated, that feeling hasn't left me. It was May 2006. I was 21 and interning for East Penn Press. My boss Deb gave me the morning off, so I was watching TV (again, I know) when my sister called me. She said a student had brought in a gun to school, and they were evacuating. She couldn't get a hold of my mom or dad, so I had to come pick her up. I remember starting to shake as I drove less than 5 minutes away to our high school. All the kids were being held on the football field, and it took some convincing to let me take Emily home. (It helps when everyone knows that your mom's a teacher!)

Even with "increased security," a boy brought various weapons into school using a musical instrument case. He supposedly only wanted to hurt himself, and he is currently on probation.

Another great point Nineteen Minutes makes is that sometimes kids react this way because of being bullied in the past. The book also addresses the issue of popularity and unpopularity. I always wondered about this, too... what makes certain kids popular? Who decides that? Are they more popular because of the way they look, dress, talk? Because they play sports or have nice cars? What makes someone unpopular? Again, they way they look and dress? Maybe they are on the debate or chess team, maybe they actually like school. Maybe they don't want to drink. Sometimes I think about the way some of the "popular" kids in my high school treated the "unpopular" kids, and it makes me cringe. Thankfully, none of the treatment was on the same level as that in Nineteen Minutes... at least, as far as I know.

Anyway, the book is so wonderful -- beautifully written and sad, even though it can also be a bit corny at times. It's full of surprises, and really makes you wonder who the real "bad guy" is. I love how everything comes full circle at the end... watch out for a special scene with the shooter's dad teaching a college class. If you're a Picoult fan, and even if you're not, I recommend getting this book... I promise you, it won't be a boring read, and it will certainly make you think!

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