It only took Peter Houghton nineteen minutes to shoot up his school, killing eight students and two teachers and permanently scarring the whole the quiet New Hampshire town of Grafton County. But it took seventeen years to lead up to the solitary teenager believing this was his only option.
Nineteen Minutes effectively alternates the unfolding present of the day of the shooting and its aftermath with chronological flashbacks from the day Peter’s midwife mother, pregnant with her second child, met pregnant lawyer Alex Cormier, to the morning of March 6 2007. Picoult gives us the perspectives of both mothers, their children (Peter and Josie), Peter’s mathematician father Lewis, lawyer Jordan McAfee (who previously appeared in the Picoult novels The Pact and Salem Falls) and detective Patrick Ducharme (another return, from Perfect Match).
In the process Picoult creates the rich and deep tapestry for which her writing’s renown, layering our understanding of the characters and of their actions. High school shootings justifiably receive a great deal of media attention – they’re shocking and spectacular. In general the popular opinion is that these boys (mass shooters are rarely female) are odd, aberrant and dangerous, and the acts are deviant and random. In Nineteen Minutes Picoult, without taking the side of Peter, shows how a number of factors over a long period of time contributed to the massacre, and indicates that it could have been averted. – Alex