Nineteen Minutes is the story of a high school shooting. It came recommended to me by a friend who said that Picoult is a great author, and from what I've read about the author, I was definitely interested to read something of hers. I must say, this is probably not the book I would have chosen to read first. As a high school student during the Columbine and ensuing Springfield shootings, I still suffer a little PTSD regarding high school shootings. I'll take this opportunity to inject my own personal view that technology has made traumatic events even more dramatic by making them readily, visibly available to the general public, and I'm not at all sure that it's a good thing.
As for the writing itself, Jodi Picoult is a good writer. As I tried to explain to a fellow reader, Picoult has the rare talent of infusing mass market publishing with some interesting phrasing. She's not the best writer I've ever read by any means, but she is better than many writers being published today. Picoult not only writes an interesting, empathetic story, but she does it well.
I say empathetic because she manages to make a large cast of characters dimensional. I don't think that Picoult intends for the reader to truly empathize with the teenage shooter, but she does write him as a very relatable character. My biggest frustration was that the omniscient narrator was completely neutral in tone regarding the boy, but the story itself did not allow for neutrality. The citizens of the small town where the shooting takes place swing between calling him a monster and a victim. A large amount of blame is placed on the parents of a teenager who showed all the warning signs. Well, if holing up in one's bedroom, wearing black, and listening to dark music are signs of an impending massacre, then almost every teenager should be locked up and questioned for motive.
The true genius of this story is the twisted ending. It is rare when an author can successfully turn a protagonist into a lifelong antagonist. I won't give away the ending, but I will say that the last 100 pages or so kept me riveted.
The underlying element in Nineteen Minutes is family. The shooter's seemingly normal home life contrasted with the dysfunctional household of the protagonist is a wide illustration of how family effects who we become. The story suggests that friendships are also crucial in personal development. Jodi Picoult has become an author well-known for her touching portrayals of the human condition. From what I can tell, her stories are often personal and emotional, teetering on the edge of trite sap, but she manages to pull them back into realism.