Literature / Nineteen Minutes

"In nineteen minutes, you can mow the front lawn; color your hair; watch a third of a hockey game. In nineteen minutes, you can bake scones or get a tooth filled by a dentist; you can fold laundry for a family of five. Nineteen minutes is how long it took the Tennessee Titans to sell out of tickets to the play-offs. It's the length of a sitcom, minus the commercials. It's the driving distance from the Vermont border to the town of Sterling, New Hampshire. In nineteen minutes, you can order a pizza and get it delivered. You can read a story to a child or have your oil changed. You can walk a mile. You can sew a hem. In nineteen minutes, you can stop the world; or you can just jump off it. In nineteen minutes, you can get revenge."
Jodi Picoult

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?

Tropes:

  • Academic Athlete: Josie is fairly intelligent and played on her school's field hockey team.
  • Accidental Pervert: Peter accidentally glances at Matt while he’s naked in the locker room in the sixth grade. Matt doesn't take it too well.
  • A Degree in Useless: Lewis' degree in the economics of happiness.
  • Adult Fear: The book has multiple moments that could scare any parent like an inability to connect with their child, having to deal with their kid being bullied in school, or losing their son or daughter.
  • Adults Are Useless: Alex is mostly oblivious to what is going on in Josie's life up until the shooting.
    • The teachers rarely do anything to put an end to the bullying. One even says that Peter is better off learning how to defend himself than the teachers taking action.
  • Alcohol-Induced Idiocy: Matt and Josie have unprotected sex after drinking.
  • The All-American Boy: Joey is most definitely this except for the fact that he was a druggie.
  • All Love Is Unrequited: Peter's feelings for Josie.
  • All of the Other Reindeer: Peter.
  • Alpha Bitch: Courtney Ignatio is Sterling High's queen bee.
  • Amazingly Embarrassing Parent: Lacy when she goes to the coach to complain about Peter not getting any play time on the soccer team… right in front of the whole soccer team.
  • Asshole Victim: It's pretty hard to feel bad for Matt after finding out about everything that he's done.
  • Axes at School: The story revolves around a school shooting, the events leading up to it, and the aftermath.
  • Babies Ever After: Alex ends up being pregnant with Patrick's child in the end.
  • Back Story: It's revealed that Peter was bullied throughout his whole life and his only friend was Josie. Josie ends up ditching Peter for the popular crowd and dates Peter's main tormentor, Matt, who is equally abusive to Josie but she puts up with it in order to remain popular. A month before the shooting, Peter sends an email to Josie admitting to his crush on her and this email is leaked to the entire school, completely humiliating him. He ends up coming across the email again and has a psychotic break, sending everything into motion.
  • Bathroom Stall of Overheard Insults: Peter overhears his brother making fun of him while in the stalls.
  • Beauty Is Never Tarnished: Averted. One girl, who was renowned at the school for her beauty, had her face ruined in the shooting. When Josie lies to her and tells her she is still pretty, it's noted that the girl knows it's a lie.
  • Be Careful What You Wish For: Michael Beach and Justin Friedman hope for something tragic to happen on the day of the shooting. Justin is even one of those killed in the shooting.
  • Becoming the Mask: Alex pretends to be very distant and collected in front of Josie but over time actually becomes this.
  • Beneath the Mask: Behind her shallow facade, Josie is actually very sympathetic and sweet towards the kids who are teased but is afraid that she’ll be ostracized if she stands up for them.
  • Berserk Button: A private email sent to Josie from Peter is leaked, which humiliates Peter. After accidentally reading the email again a month later, Peter has a psychotic break, which cause the shooting.
  • Beta Bitch: It's implied that Maddie is this to Courtney.
  • Beware the Nice Ones: Peter.
  • Big Brother Bully: Joey was incredibly abusive to Peter; it's not shown whether he acted this way towards other students.
  • Boom, Headshot: Matt is shot in the head after Josie shoots him in the stomach.
    • John Eberhard also takes a shot to the head but miraculously survives even after he fell out of a window. Regardless however, he suffers from severe brain damage.
  • Born Unlucky: Practically everything in Peter's life has gone wrong for him.
  • Brainy Brunette: Josie.
  • Break the Cutie: Basically, Peter's whole life.
  • Break the Haughty: Goes for Josie.
  • Broken Pedestal: Joey Houghton. Lewis and Lacy clearly idolized him until Lacy found out that he was a heroin addict.
  • Brutally Honest: Patrick when he had to tell Josie about the shooting.
    • Also when Alex got mad at him for telling Josie about it.
    • When asked about Josie, Derek calls her a bitch. After his mother snaps at him, he defends himself, saying, "He isn't lying."
  • Bullying a Dragon: If those kids had just left Peter alone...
  • Bury Your Gays: Mr. McCabe.
  • Butt Monkey: Peter's life was a living hell from day one.
  • Calling the Old Man Out: Peter does this to both of his parents in jail for neglect and favoring his brother over him.
    • Josie calls Alex out frequently for pretending to be a good mother when she would constantly put her career over her daughter.
  • Career-Ending Injury: Drew is shot in the shoulder during the shooting, ultimately putting an end to him playing hockey.
    • John is shot in the head and suffers from severe brain damage, making him unable to play hockey ever again.
  • Chekhov's Gun: Gun B; The second gun in the shooting that was only fired once with an inconclusive finger print that was assumed to be Peter's. The print is actually Josie's who grabs it after it falls out of Peter's backpack and uses it to shoot Matt.
  • Cool Teacher: Mr. McCabe.
  • 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 Grâce: 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 shot him in the stomach.
  • Crazy Jealous Guy: Matt.
  • Curb-Stomp Battle: Matt delivers one to Peter after a pretty nasty exchange.
  • Cute and Psycho: Peter still manages to look harmless and sweet even after he murdered ten people.
  • Dark Secret: Josie has a lot of skeletons in her closet but shooting Matt would be her biggest one, though.
  • Death Wish: Peter comes close to this a number of times.
    • Josie has somewhat of a death wish.
  • Defective Detective: Patrick's personal life doesn’t seem too great.
  • Did Not Die That Way: Matt was reportedly wounded in the stomach and then shot by Peter but it turns out that Josie pulled the trigger first, and then Peter killed 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 towards Josie, who puts up with it because she doesn't know who she is without him anymore.
  • Downer Beginning: And it just keeps getting worse from there...
  • Downer Ending: Well, what did you expect from a story about a school shooting?
  • Dramatic Necklace Removal: Josie removes the necklace Matt gave her for her birthday and stuffs it in the couch.
  • Driven to Suicide: The mother of one of the victims walks into a gun shop, takes a gun, and shoots herself.
    • It's also shown early on that Josie has a collection of pills gathered up, as a sort of backup plan in her mind. After the shooting, she almost swallows them, but isn't able to go through with it.
    • After multiple attempts, Peter shoves a sock down his throat.
  • Dysfunction Junction: Peter has been bullied since the second he stepped on the bus back in kindergarten, his parents clearly favor his older brother over him, his best friend left him for the popular crowd, had a private email spammed to the entire school, and was pantsed in front of the entire cafeteria.
    • Josie's mother puts her career over her; she is constantly worried that people will think she isn't cool; her boyfriend verbally, psychologically, and physically abused her; and her father wants nothing to do with her.
  • Eating Lunch Alone: Once school is back in session, Josie actually chooses to eat alone at lunch.
  • Empty Chair Memorial: When the school is opened once more, there is a newly built atrium with ten chairs bolted on the floor for the ten victims.
  • Everyone Loves Blondes: Courtney Ignatio as Sterling High's most beautiful and popular girl.
  • Expository Hairstyle Change: In Josie's transition to popularity, she begins to mimic how Courtney Ignatio does her hair and starts straightening it.
  • Extreme Doormat: Josie lets Matt and her friends walk all over her for the sake of remaining popular.
  • 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.
  • First Kiss: Josie has her first kiss with Matt.
    • Peter has his with Josie.
  • Flash Back: Throughout the entire novel.
  • Former Friends Photo: Peter had one of him and Josie stored in his locker.
  • Freudian Excuse: Peter commits mass murder largely due to the years of bullying.
  • Friendless Background: Although it may seem that Josie is friends with the popular kids, she eventually realizes that none of them are actually friends but merely allies.
  • Get Out: Joey after Peter overhears him talking about him in the stalls.
  • 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.
  • Girl Posse: Courtney has one consisting of Josie, Maddie, Haley, and Emma.
  • Green-Eyed Monster: Matt gets jealous when people are even near Josie.
  • Gunpoint Banter: Peter has an exchange with Matt and Josie while he points a gun Matt and Josie points one at him.
  • Happier Home Movie: Josie watches one of her and her friends at her birthday party days after the shooting.
  • Hidden Depths: Jerk Jock Matt tells Josie that he would read comic books when he was sick to make himself feel better.
  • Hollywood New England: Like every Jodi Picoult book, this one takes place in New England. This time in New Hampshire.
  • In-Series Nickname: Josie is nicknamed "Jo" by Matt.
    • In a less sweet version, Peter is dubbed "homo" by the popular kids.
  • Ironic Echo: The first paragraph from the novel is repeated in the prosecution's opening statement.
  • It's All My Fault: Derek after the shooting.
  • Jerkass: Sterling High is full of them.
  • Jerkass Façade: Josie puts up the front of being a stuck up and shallow popular girl but is actually much kinder and sympathetic towards the less popular students.
  • Jerk Jock: All of the popular boys, especially Matt and Drew.
  • Keep Away: Matt and Drew play keep away with Peter's lunchbox.
  • Lethal Chef: Alex.
  • Lonely at the Top: Josie certainly feels this way about being popular.
  • Love Confession: Peter makes his for Josie in an email. It doesn't go too well.
    • Matt makes his for Josie right after he hit her.
  • Love Triangle: Peter/Josie/Matt.
  • Luke, You Are My Father: Josie approaches Logan Rourke and tells him that she is his daughter. Unfortunately, he's running for office and his identity as her father could jeopardize his chances, so instead, he tries to give her money to back off.
  • Making Love in All the Wrong Places: Josie and Matt have sex on the floor and even on the side of the road.
  • Manipulative Bitch: Courtney. She goes so far to even manipulating Peter into thinking that Josie liked him back.
    • Matt can be pretty manipulative at times as well.
  • Meaningful Funeral: Matt’s funeral with a grieving Josie who can only manage to say that she is sorry. It takes a different meaning after finding out that she shot him first.
  • 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.
  • Mistaken for Cheating: Lacy suspects that Lewis was cheating on her when she found out that he hasn't been visiting Peter in jail. He's been visiting the victims' graves instead.
  • Moment Killer: Matt comes just in time to end Josie and Peter's intimate moment on the elevator.
  • Moral Event Horizon: You'd think that Matt would've already reached this point way early on, having been revealed to be manipulative, physically abusive, and a merciless bully, but it's not until there's a flashback of him threatening to kill himself to make Josie take him back where he's really crossed the line.
  • Murder-Suicide: Peter is about to kill himself after his Roaring Rampage of Revenge but he is stopped by Patrick.
  • My Secret Pregnancy: Josie doesn't tell anyone except Matt that she's pregnant.
  • Nice Mean And In Between: Between the three main characters. In flashbacks, Peter is the sensitive and sweet nice one, Matt would be the cruel and vicious mean one, and Josie who acts mean but isn’t actually would be the in-between.
  • No Social Skills: Peter really doesn't have any.
  • Not Evil, Just Misunderstood: What the prosecution argues for Peter's case.
  • Oh, Crap!: Jordan experiences this after Peter references his actions to a “game” and that “it’s not over yet” on the stand.
  • Old Shame: In-Universe example. Josie’s feelings towards her former friendship with Peter.
  • Parental Abandonment: Josie's father abandoned her.
  • Parental Favoritism: Lewis and Lacey very clearly favor their older, golden boy son Joey over Peter.
  • Parental Neglect: Peter is mostly neglected by his parents for Joey. It gets worse after Joey dies.
    • Alex pays almost no attention to Josie and doesn’t even attempt to have a relationship with her until after the shooting.
  • Parental Obliviousness: Lacy and Lewis completely miss the signs that Peter is unhinged.
    • Alex fails to notice how unhappy Josie is with her life.
  • Passing Notes in Class: Peter and Josie would do this when they were younger.
  • Picked Last: Peter is chosen last during a game of basketball.
  • Playing Sick: Josie fakes being sick and stays home when she's pregnant.
  • Popular Is Dumb: Played straight with most of the popular kids. Subverted with Josie.
  • Posthumous Character: Joey was already dead from the start of the novel and is only depicted in flashbacks.
  • Really Gets Around: Implied with Courtney.
  • Reckless Gun Usage: When Peter and Josie were five, they were caught playing with one of Lewis's firearms. Obviously, Alex and Lacy don't take it very well.
  • The Reveal: Josie grabs Peter's second gun and shoots in Matt in the stomach.
  • Revenge: At least part of Peter's motivation.
    Peter: "They started it."
  • Roaring Rampage of Revenge: Peter after years of being bullied. However, Peter doesn't actually plan his revenge until a month before the shooting.
  • Sanity Slippage: Shown in the flashbacks. As more things in Peter's life go wrong, he starts to lose his grip.
  • 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.
  • Sibling Rivalry: Joey and Peter have a fierce rivalry with Peter actually being relieved that Joey is dead.
  • Sibling Yin-Yang: Joey was the athletic, intelligent, cooler older brother to the awkward, sensitive, and unpopular Peter.
  • Slut-Shaming: Matt calls Josie a slut and a whore after a guy accidentally spills his drink on her.
  • Society Is to Blame: The novel depicts society as a partial factor for Peter’s actions.
  • Stepford Smiler: The main cast (Barring Peter, Jordan and possibly Patrick)
    • Josie is the most notable example. She's depressed, pretending to be the perfect Golden girl whilst simultaneously having to put up with an abusive boyfriend, neglectful mother and niggling suspicion that if she stops smiling for even a second, everyone will realise she's nothing special.
    • Matt is Unstable, pretending at first to be the perfect boyfriend, until he turns out to be an abusive jerk.
    • Alex has to act perfect 24/7 for the sake of her job whilst the strain tears her apart.
    • Lacy has to deal with the fact that one of her children turned out to be a druggie whilst the other (Peter) went on a killing spree.
    • Lewis (Lacy's husband) has to deal with the above whilst being a happiness economist (Meaning it's his job to work out the mathematical value of happiness)
    • Selena gets off relatively easy, only having to deal with racist idiots.
  • Surprise Witness: Josie is unexpectedly called up to the witness stand by Jordan, who at first had the intention to use her as a means to make Peter seem more sympathetic, but then, he realized that her claims (although later proven to be false) of what happened in the locker room could help the defense.
  • Switching P.O.V.: Comes from at least fifteen different point of views.
  • Sympathetic Adulterer: Josie kissing Peter on a dare while she is with Matt isn’t necessarily seen as a bad thing.
  • Sympathetic Murderer: The readers are made to sympathize with Peter yet still him view as a vile killer.
  • Taking the Heat: Peter takes the blame for the shot to Matt's stomach to protect Josie. She finally confesses while on the stand at his trial.
  • Talking to the Dead: Josie to the grave of Matt.
  • Techno Wizard: Peter is particularly good with computers.
  • Teen Pregnancy: Josie gets pregnant by Matt, but manually induces a miscarriage to avoid having to tell anyone.
  • Teens Are Monsters: Peter, and all of the kids who bullied him.
    • Most notably, Matt and Courtney who are the catalysts for the shooting.
  • That One Case: The shooting becomes this for Patrick.
  • Their First Time: Matt and Josie have sex for the first time on the side of the road.
  • Time Skip: The flashbacks skip from seventeen years prior to the massacre, to twelve, to five, to a year, to a month, to the day of. The present jumps from the day of, an hour after, a day after, ten days after, a month after, five months after, to a year after.
  • True Companions: Despite disliking each other and even sharing a kiss at one point, Josie and Peter are officially this after Peter shoulders the blame for Josie shooting Matt since she was his friend again.
  • The Unfavorite: Peter.
  • Took a Level in Jerkass: Josie went from being Peter's only friend and always sticking up for him to a fake status-obsessed popular girl who ends up dating an abusive bully and befriending all of the kids who would torment Peter.
    • Happens to Peter while in jail.
  • Trauma Conga Line: Peter’s backstory. It turns out that he was being bullied throughout his entire childhood into his adolescence with no one to lean on but his best friend who eventually joins the kids who have been picking on him. All of the years of neglect and abuse leads to him to commit a shooting.
    • Josie as well. Her mother cared about her job more than her daughters well being and her father decides he wants nothing to do with her. She ends up dating an abusive bully and feels like she constantly has to put up a facade to make people like her. It all comes down to the final moments in the locker room where she shoots Matt.
  • Trauma-Induced Amnesia: Josie can't remember a thing about the shooting. It eventually comes back to her.
  • Troubled Child: Peter was clearly The Unfavorite in his household, he was a frequent target for bullying from the start of elementary school, and rarely ever received any support. Lacy even says that Peter was a troubled child since he was a baby.
  • Two Dun It: Peter and Josie are responsible for Matt's death.
  • Unlucky Childhood Friend: Peter to Josie.
  • Unwanted Glasses Plot: Peter is actually excited to have his glasses until it ends becoming another reason for him to be teased.
  • Used to Be a Sweet Kid: Peter was described as being sweet and sensitive. After the shooting, he's portrayed as being the opposite.
  • 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.
  • Vomiting Cop: Patrick recalls how some of his fellow officers had gotten sick after a particularly gruesome crime scene.
  • 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.
  • What Does She See in Him?: Peter really doesn't understand why Josie is with Matt, especially after learning Matt Would Hit a Girl.
  • "Where Are They Now?" Epilogue: The epilogue takes place a year later, revealing that Peter killed himself a month after the verdict, Josie earned a five year sentence for shooting Matt, Alex and Patrick are married and are having a baby, and Sterling High School is reopened with a newly constructed gym, locker room, cafeteria, and atrium where ten seats are bolted to the ground for the ten victims of the shooting.
  • Where Did We Go Wrong?: Lewis and particularly Lacy's reaction to how Peter and Joey to turned out.
  • Where It All Began: The beginning of Peter’s bullying starts on the bus and when he commits suicide, he envisions himself back on the bus but with no bullies.
  • Who's Your Daddy?: Josie attempts to find out who her dad is and locate him.
  • Wild Teen Party: Matt and Josie go to a party complete with alcohol, dancing, and a fight.
  • 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.
  • Would Hit a Girl: Matt definitely has no problem with breaking Josie's leg.
  • 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".

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