Literature: Nineteen Minutes

A 2007 novel by Jodi Picoult.

The small town of Sterling, New Hampshire, is torn apart by a school shooting committed by one of its students, Peter Houghton, who snapped after years of bullying. In the aftermath, the victims and their families find themselves isolated from everyone. Josie Cormier, the daughter of the judge assigned to the case, who should be the best witness, is unable to remember her boyfriend being murdered in front of her; her mother, Alex, struggles over whether or not to remain sitting on the case; Jordan McAfee takes Peter's case and finds himself overwhelmed by the amounts of evidence against his client. Through it all, everyone asks whose fault the shooting is: does blame lie with Peter, or with the people who pushed him over the edge?


  • Axes at School: Or, guns and bombs.
  • Beauty Is Never Tarnished: Averted. One girl, who was renowned at the school for her beauty, had her face ruined in the attack. When Josie lies to her and tells her she is still pretty, it's noted that the girl knows it's a deception.
  • Big Brother Bully: Joey was incredibly abusive to Peter; it's not shown whether he acted this way towards other students.
  • Break the Cutie: Basically, Peter's whole life.
  • Continuity Nod: Jordan McAfee from The Pact and Salem Falls returns as Peter's attorney, and Patrick Ducharme from Perfect Match returns as the lead detective on the shooting.
  • Coup de Grāce: Patrick notes that Matt is "more dead" than the other victims, having been shot once in the torso and once in the head. It's because Peter shot Matt in the head, after he's lying on the ground after Josie gut-shot him.
  • Disappeared Dad: Josie's father.
  • The Dog Bites Back: One interpretation of what Peter does. Also, Josie's murder of Matt.
  • Domestic Abuse: Matt is horribly abusive to Josie, who puts up with it because she doesn't know who she is without him anymore.
  • Driven to Suicide: The mother of one of the victims walks into a gun shop, takes a gun, and shoots herself. A month after his conviction, Peter commits suicide in his jail cell.
    • It's also shown early on that Josie has a collection of pills gathered up, as a sort of back-up plan in her mind. After the shooting, she almost swallows them, but isn't able to go through with it.
  • Face-Heel Turn: The foundation of Josie's split from Peter and the end of their friendship; in middle school, a girl got her period in the middle of class and several students started picking on her. Peter, about to join in, realized what he was doing and demanded that the bullies leave her alone. Josie didn't, and joined the bullies. And she has been with them ever since.
  • Good Girls Avoid Abortion: Played straight with Alex; she became pregnant through an affair with her law professor, Logan Rourke, and was encouraged by him to abort, but found herself unable to go through with it. Subverted with Josie; she becomes pregnant with Matt's child but doesn't want to go to a clinic to have an abortion done, because that would involve telling her mother. Instead, she manually induces a miscarriage.
  • Isolation Despondency: As a child, Peter is forbidden to contact Josie after the two of them are caught playing with guns.
  • Jerkass: Sterling High is full of them.
  • Mexican Standoff: The school massacre actually ends with one, with Peter holding Matt at gunpoint, while Josie points one of Peter's own guns at him. Josie breaks the standoff by shooting Matt herself.
  • Parental Favoritism: Lewis and Lacey very clearly favor their older, golden boy son Joey over Peter.
  • Revenge: at least part of Peter's motivation.
    Peter: "They started it."
  • Second Love: Alex is this for Patrick.
  • Secret Keeper: Peter never tells anyone, not even his lawyer, that Josie pulled the trigger on Matt. He even advises her not to tell anyone as well so he'll shoulder the blame for it. Josie keeps the secret right up until she's on the witness stand at Peter's trial.
  • Stepford Smiler: Josie.
  • Teen Pregnancy: Josie gets pregnant by Matt, but manually induces a miscarriage to avoid having to tell anyone.
  • Unlucky Childhood Friend: Peter to Josie.
  • The Unfavorite: Peter.
  • Visit by Divorced Dad: Inverted; Josie's dad never bothers to visit her, so in high school, she tracks him down instead. It doesn't go well.
  • We Used to Be Friends: Peter and Josie. The division between them really happened in middle school, over the bullying of a classmate who had gotten her period. Peter demanded the bullies stop. Josie joined them.
  • The Woobie: Peter, though Josie's life is no slouch in this department either.
  • Woobie, Destroyer of Worlds: Peter's life was one kick in the teeth after another, and then he just snapped.
  • You Will Be Spared: When Peter is circling the pictures of people he plans to kill in his yearbook, initially he circles Josie as well. But after getting stuck for a couple of hours with her in an elevator and he learns she isn't as horrible as he thought, he removes the circle around her name and writes the words "Let Live."