Nineteen Minutes

What could possibly make a person walk into a school with four guns and kill ten people? You’ll give a different answer after reading this book.

I could hardly put it out of my mind after the first sentence, and probably for a lot of time after the last one. I loved the way Jodi Picoult gets inside the minds of the characters, without judging them. I also loved the way the book is structured: starting with the incident and then, like a movie, alternating between moments of time before and after. These clear-cut scenes are interspersed with short insights from Peter, which carry the most emotional charge (To anyone who cares…). If you are like me and find it hard to remember the characters’ names initially, you might find this exposition technique somewhat confusing, but I bet you’ll appreciate it in the end.

Overall this is one of the best novels I’ve read. I’m definitely going to look for more books by the author. If I could change one thing about this one though, I would cut in half the amount of text dedicated to the courtroom.

Some ideas that this book touches upon:

  • High school, like any society, is divided into two categories of people: the cool and popular (unhappy because they have to wear a mask all the time), and the uncool and unpopular (unhappy because they are lonely etc.)
  • Some people see suicide as an extreme communication device.
  • Life/society/school/democracy sucks, but it’s the best thing we’ve got so far.
  • When we’re sitting in front of the TV, we appreciate the fact that the media is able to keep us informed, but we rarely think of how the same media intrudes in the lives of those we see on the screen.
  • The fear of losing control; the desire to live within predictability, and what happens when that balance is lost.
  • What happens when someone we love does something we would never have expected (Peter — Lacy and Lewis; Josie — Alex).
  • There is no clearly-defined line between childhood and adulthood, yet the rights we give a person and the way we judge them are a function of biological age.
  • How the same thing carries different meanings to different people.
  • Do you still want the truth if it hurts?
  • Nothing we do is guaranteed to be good or bad in the long run.
  • Ultimately, revenge doesn’t change anything.
  • Life goes on. The human capacity to get over things is sometimes astounding.

Finally, the inaccurate list of quotes (since I had the audio only). Like with any good book, much of the meaning is derived from context, and I regret not being able to reflect here the feelings, especially those stirred by the ending of the book.

  • “If we don’t change the direction we are headed, we will end up where we’re going.” (Chinese proverb)
  • In nineteen minutes you can stop the world, or, you can just jump off it. In nineteen minutes you can get revenge.
  • Either Josie was someone she didn’t want to be, or she was someone whom nobody wanted. […] She understood how she was supposed to look and supposed to act, […] but there was a part of her that wondered what would happen if she let them all in on the secret: that some mornings it was hard to get out of bed and put on someone else’s smile; that she was standing on air: a fake who laughed at all the right jokes […]; a fake who had nearly forgotten what it felt like to be real and who, when you got right down to it, didn’t want to remember, because it hurt even more than this.
  • Hope, Patrick knew, was the exact measure of distance between himself and the person who’d come for help.
  • Tears had a whole different melody, didn’t they, without the pain threaded through them.
  • […] a gaze wide with wisdom and peace; eight pounds of unadulterated possibility. Newborns reminded her of tiny Buddhas, faces full of divinity. It didn’t last long though. […] a week later […] they had turned into ordinary, albeit tiny, people.
  • It struck Lacy that she didn’t really know what color a chameleon was before it started changing.
  • Success would come only at the expense of losing her cool, at the risk of turning into someone she didn’t want to be.
  • To anyone who cares: nobody wants to admit this, but bad things will keep on happening. Maybe that’s because it’s all a chain, and a long time ago, someone did the first bad thing, and that lead someone else to do another bad thing, and so on. […] But then again, maybe bad things happen because it’s the only way we can keep remembering what good is supposed to look like.
  • If you spent your life concentrating on what everyone else thought of you, would you forget who you really were? What if the face you showed the world turned out to be a mask, with nothing beneath it?
  • You couldn’t argue the facts. You could only change the lens through which you looked at them.
  • If you listen carefully in a hospital, you can hear the truth.
  • She was no better than any of the other stupid people in this world, who thought if they pretended hard enough, they could make it so. She had thought that death could be an answer, because she was too immature to realize it was the biggest question of all. […] She had pictured suicide as a final statement, a ‘Fuck You’ to the people who hadn’t understood how hard it was for her to be the Josie they wanted her to be. She’d somehow thought that if she killed herself, she’d be able to watch everyone else’s reaction; that she’d get the last laugh. Until yesterday, she hadn’t really understood: dead was dead. When you died, you didn’t get to come back and see what you were missing. You didn’t get to apologize. You didn’t get a second chance. Death wasn’t something you could control, in fact, it would always have the upper hand.
  • I sometimes think it’s easier to be the one who’s been hurt than the one who couldn’t stop it from happening.
  • That was the way this society worked. You were only at the bottom of the totem pole until you could find someone else to take your place.
  • There’s different kinds of ‘real.’
  • You could patch up whatever was broken, but if you were the one who had fixed it, you’d always know in your heart where the fault lines lay.
  • Did you know that a single incident of bullying in childhood can be as traumatic to a person, over time, as a single incident of sexual abuse?
  • […] you might have to lose control before you could find what you’d been missing.
  • Popular kids didn’t really have friends. They had alliances. You were safe only as long as you hid your trust. At any moment someone might make you the laughing stock, because then they knew no one was laughing at them.
  • “When you begin a journey of revenge, start by digging two graves: one for your enemy, and one for yourself.” (Chinese proverb)
  • (about falling in love) It’s not like on TV, like everything’s perfect all of a sudden. […] It’s more like, once it happens, you spend all your time realizing how much can go wrong.

Update: and something I’ve only remembered now:
happiness = reality / expectation;
expectation / reality = hope.

4 Responses to Nineteen Minutes

  1. Katie says:

    I used the quotes to help me write my prompt response essay on it.
    Thank you. :)

  2. Constantin says:

    You’re welcome!

  3. Trixie Croad says:

    hi, can you tell me what page in the book or post the full section when Lewis realises his happiness model is missing hope… it says something about no one ever really loses hope

  4. Constantin says:

    Find the book on Google Books and search for “expectation reality hope” (without quotes) inside the book.

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