Nineteen Minutes

Nineteen Minutes

First edition
Author Jodi Picoult
Country  USA
Language English
Genre Thriller
Publisher Atria
Publication date
March 6, 2007
Media type Print (Paperback)
Pages 455 pp
ISBN 978-1-74175-072-0

Nineteen Minutes, published on March 9, 2007, is a novel by Jodi Picoult. It was her first book to debut at #1 on the New York Times Best Seller list.[1] This book is about a school shooting, and focuses on the events leading up to and following the incident.


The story begins on March 6, 2007 in the small town of Sterling, New Hampshire, tracking the lives of a number of characters on an "ordinary day." The characters include Alex Cormier, a superior court judge; her daughter Josie, a junior in high school; Lacy, Lewis, and Peter Houghton; Detective Patrick Ducharme; and several victims-to-be.

At the local high school, Sterling High, the story follows a routine day of students in classes, at the gym, and in the cafeteria. Suddenly, a loud bang is heard from the parking lot, which turns out to be a bomb set off in Matt Royston's car. As the students are distracted by the noise, gunshots are fired. When Patrick, the only detective on the Sterling police force, arrives at Sterling High, he searches the school to seek out the gunman, who is alleged to be a student. After passing several dead and wounded victims, Patrick traps and arrests the shooter, Peter Houghton, in the locker room, where he finds two students, Josie Cormier and Matt Royston, lying on the floor surrounded in blood. While Matt is dead, having been the only victim shot twice, Josie is not seriously injured, but only shocked: she cannot remember what happened.

The shooting kills ten people (nine students and one teacher) and wounds many other people.

Throughout the book, time flashes back and forth between events before and after the shooting. In the past, the reader learns that Peter and Josie were once close friends. Peter was frequently the target of severe bullying at school, and Josie often stuck up for him. The friends slowly drifted apart as they got older: Josie joined the popular crowd in order to protect her own interests, seeing her relationship to Peter as embarrassing. The story pictures Peter as an outcast at home as well; Peter believes his older brother Joey is favored by their parents. Joey is a popular straight-A student and athlete, but feels it necessary to ridicule Peter to protect his reputation, even fabricating a story that Peter was adopted. When Joey is killed in a car accident in 2006, Lacy and Lewis Houghton are too upset to pay attention to their remaining son, causing a bigger rift between Peter and his parents.

In their sophomore year, Josie begins dating Matt, a popular jock who leads his friends Drew Girard and John Eberhard in bullying Peter. Matt often calls Peter "homo" and "fag," leading Peter to question his sexual orientation. The bullying intensifies once Matt begins dating Josie, in his possessive efforts to keep her away from other boys. On one occasion, Peter approaches Josie after school to try talking to her. Matt beats him up, leaving Peter humiliated in front of the school.

The flashbacks also reveal several subplots: the difficult relationship between Josie and her single mother Alex, Alex's dilemma of being a judge and a mother, Peter's escape from bullying into to the world of video games, Josie's fear of falling out of the popular crowd and her suicide back-up plan when she does, Matt's abusive behavior toward Josie, Josie's pregnancy and subsequent miscarriage, as well as Lewis Houghton's hunting lessons with his son Peter.

One month before the shooting, Peter realizes that he has feelings for Josie, and sends her an email expressing his love. Courtney Ignatio reads this email before Josie and has Drew forward it to the entire school. Courtney then convinces Peter that Josie likes him. Peter asks Josie to join him later during lunch, only to suffer public humiliation as Matt pulls down Peter's pants and exposes his genitals to a cafeteria full of students. Peter's psychotic break is triggered on the morning of the shooting when he turns on his computer and accidentally opens the email he wrote to Josie.

After the shooting, Peter is sent to jail while the trial proceeds. The probable cause hearing is waived as Peter admits to killing ten people and wounding nineteen others. Jordan, Peter's defense attorney, uses battered person syndrome caused by severe bullying and abuse as a basis to convince the jury that Peter’s actions were justified as a result of his suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder. Jordan argues that he was in a dissociative state at the time of the shooting. In the final stage of the trial, Josie reveals that she was the one who shot Matt the first time after grabbing a gun that fell out of Peter's bag. He was abusive. Peter later fired the fatal second shot. Peter promised her he wouldn't tell anyone what she had done, and he kept this promise, happy to have Josie as his friend again.

Peter is convicted of eight counts of first-degree murder and two counts of second-degree murder and is sentenced to life in prison. A month afterward, Peter commits suicide by stuffing a sock into his throat.

At the end of the book, one year from the date of the massacre, Josie has received a five-year sentence for accessory of manslaughter and is regularly visited in jail by her mother. Throughout the book, Josie never told the whole story, instead repeating, "I can't remember." When Josie admits to shooting Matt, Peter's sentence is reduced. Alex and Patrick, who are expecting their first child, walk the halls of the high school. Sterling High has been extensively remodeled after the shooting. The cafeteria, the gym and locker room where the massacre took place have been replaced by a large glass atrium with a memorial to the dead in the center, a row of ten white chairs bolted to the floor. A plaque declares the building "A Safe Harbor."



In order of death:


The book received generally favorable reviews by critics, for the writing, character development,[2] plot twists, and the moral issues raised, including peer pressure, popularity, self-image, school bullying, betrayal and deception, sexual orientation doubt, teen dating violence, suicide, video game violence, single parenthood and communication barriers between adolescents and adults.[3]

The Associated Press acknowledged that although Peter's guilt cannot be in doubt from a legal perspective, it is hard for readers to know where to put the blame as the story unfolds.[4] Rocky Mountain News agreed, stating that while the beginning shooting scene makes it "painfully clear who the victims and killer are. As the novel unfolds, Picoult succeeds in lifting those assumptions up for scrutiny, until villains and victims seem to blend into a motley jumble of alliances and rejection."[2]

The Free Lance-Star mentioned that Nineteen Minutes created a two-sided story that helps readers understand everything about the school shooting, which is more than what normal media coverage will provide about this type of tragedy.[5] The New York Times praised Picoult's writing, commenting that she "writes articulately and clearly, making her all too much of a rarity among popular authors." [6] The Washington Post called the book not only a thriller that is "complete with dismaying carnage, urgent discoveries and 11th-hour revelations", but also a source of serious moral questions about relationships between children and adult, and among children themselves.[7] The Boston Globe considered Nineteen Minutes "an insightful deconstruction of youthful alienation, of the shattering repercussions of bullying, and the disturbing effects of benign neglect."[8]

An ambiguous point in the story is the identity of the author of the handwritten journal entries at the start of the book chapters, with New York Times saying this writer may or may not be Peter, although "it doesn't sound like him",[6][9] and Hippo Press analyzing that whether or not the writer is identified "doesn’t matter"; the author maybe either Josie or Peter, and the point is that the diary pieces "provide insight into the workings of the teenage mind", showing that they are "not all that different."[3] Peter, the shooter, is also noted by USA Today as a lonely bullied student more similar to the offender in Heath High School shooting in Paducah, Kentucky than the offenders in Columbine High School massacre (Both shooting incidents are mentioned in the story and used by Picoult as materials for research).[10]

Autobiographical elements

Jodi Picoult says her "children struggled with fitting in and being bullied"[11] which made them "guinea pigs"[11] for her characters in the novel. She knew the topic, bullying, was a universal one because everyone has experienced it in some way.


  1. "New York Times Best Seller Number Ones Listing". Retrieved 2009-06-19.
  2. 1 2 "Clock ticks for killer : Books : The Rocky Mountain News". Rocky Mountain News. Retrieved 2009-06-19.
  3. 1 2 "HippoPress – The Hippo – Guide to Manchester and Nashua NH". Hippo Press. Retrieved 2009-06-19.
  4. "Fictional high school shooting provides riveting reading". The San Diego Union-Tribune. Associated Press. Retrieved 2009-06-19.
  5. " – 'NINETEEN MINUTES' GIVES NEW TAKE ON SCHOOL SHOOTINGS". Free Lance-Star. Retrieved 2009-06-19.
  6. 1 2 Maslin, Janet (2007-03-16). "Nineteen Minutes – Jodi Picoult – Book – Review – New York Times". New York Times. Retrieved 2009-06-19.
  7. Taliaferro, Frances (2007-03-25). "Why He Did It -". Washington Post. Retrieved 2009-06-19.
  8. Campbell, Karen (2007-03-19). "Consequences of bullying erupt in Picoult's 'Nineteen Minutes' – The Boston Globe". Boston Globe. Retrieved 2009-06-19.
  9. Readers may speculate that Josie is the one writing those handwritten journal entries. When Alex comes into Josie's room at one point, Josie is in the process of writing in her journal – what she is writing turns out to be the handwritten entry in the beginning of the book.
  10. McClurg, Jocelyn (2007-03-05). "'Nineteen Minutes': A tragedy frightening in its banality -". USA Today. Retrieved 2009-06-19.
  11. 1 2 Interview with Jodi Picoult about Nineteen Minutes
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