Last night I finished Jodi Picoult's newest book Nineteen Minutes. Picoult is one of my favorite authors. At least she used to be. I'm not sure what to think these days. I've read every book she's written, and my favorites are probably among the first eight that she wrote. As of late, she's picked some fairly controversial topics to write about, and while she chooses interesting angles from which to view the stories, I'm not sure I see it from the same spot on the landscape.
Nineteen Minutes is a story about a high school shooter. A young man, one who had been constantly bullied since kindergarten. He finally snapped. The story is about the shooting and the trial following. It also follows a young girl who was the shooter's childhood friend and later foe. When I turned the last page I sat in bed and went, "Hmmm." That means I'm just not sure what I think.
Picoult did not cause me to feel terribly sympathetic to the shooter. I'm not sure if that was her intent. I did feel extreme frustration for him and I wanted to shake the adults in the story. Could no one see what this poor little guy (and later big guy) was going through? His pathetic mother did nothing but push the poor kid into situations in which he was going to be pathetic (like competitive sports for example). The school did nothing, because school officials know that correcting a bully always makes it worse for the victim, especially after grade school when kids know how to do what they want without anyone seeing. And I was really angry with the bullies -- kids, almost adults, with not an ounce of empathy.
Though I could have shaken the shooter's mother, at times I felt extreme sympathy for her. There were several times in which she was forced to face her own responsibility in her son's crime. Though she did nothing to aid him, and had no knowledge of his intent, you have to wonder whose fault it is when a child makes such a huge error in judgment? Is it possible for a child to go so far from the straight and narrow path without the knowledge of the parent? She wonders about the little boy that she loved and raised, and where it all went wrong, and whether she'll be able to hold onto the memories of him as a child, knowing what he did. I really thought about that. What if my own child did such a horrible thing? You could never live a normal life again. You would forever re-examine every single memory, looking for signs of something not quite right. How sad. How very sad.
So, while the story took a strange twist that I didn't see coming, and while I didn't quite see the characters from the same perspective that Picoult did (or maybe I did, who knows), I am glad I read the book. For one, it reinforces my belief that homeschooling has extreme value, even beyond the education. It certainly is the kinder, gentler way. And, as a parent, I think I have the responsibility to instill in my children empathy for every single person that they come in contact with. There is never an excuse for unkind words, much less physical punishment. Sadly, many parents, wittingly or not, teach the opposite -- that those who are weaker must be punished. Sad world that we live in.