Nineteen Minutes by Jodi Picoult


  Q: What facts did you uncover during your research that might surprise readers whose knowledge of school shootings comes solely from media coverage?

  A: Although the media is quick to list the "aberrant" characteristics of a school shooter, the truth is that they fit all teens at some point in their adolescence! Or in other words, these kids who resort to violence are not all that different from the one living upstairs in your own house, most likely--as scary as that is to imagine. Two other facts that surprised me: for many of these shooters, there is the thinnest line between suicide and homicide. They go to the school planning to kill themselves and decide at the last minute to shoot others, too. And psychologically, a single act of childhood bullying is as scarring emotionally as a single act of sexual abuse. From the point of view of the survivors, I remember being stunned when this young man I interviewed said that afterward, when his parents were trying to be solicitous and asked him if he needed anything, he turned away from them . . . because he was angry that they hadn't been like that yesterday, before. Historically, one of the most upsetting things I learned was that after Columbine, more than one family was told that their child was the first to be killed. It was theoretically supposed to offer them comfort ("my child went first and didn't suffer") but backfired when several families realized they'd been told the same thing.

  Q: What appealed to you about bringing back two characters from previous novels, defense lawyer Jordan McAfee and detective Patrick Ducharme? Why the romantic resolution for Patrick this time?

  A: Okay, I'm just going to admit it to the world: I have a crush on Patrick Ducharme. And of course, he didn't get the girl at the end of Perfect Match. So I really wanted him to star in another story where he was front and center. (For those really savvy readers who want to torture themselves with unanswered questions--scroll back to the first chapter of Nineteen Minutes and do the math: how old is Nina's little girl? And how long ago was Perfect Match? Hmm . . .) As for Jordan--as soon as I realized that I had a murder trial in New Hampshire, I started thinking of who might defend Peter. And Jordan happened to be free! It's always great fun to bring a character back, because you get to catch up on his or her life; and you don't have to reinvent the wheel--you already know how he or she speaks, acts, thinks.

  Q: In Nineteen Minutes, Lewis Houghton is a college professor whose area of expertise is the economics of happiness. Does such a profession actually exist? How does Lewis's job relate to the story as a whole?

  A: It does exist! There are economics professors who run statistics about how different elements of a person's life (marriage, sexual orientation, salary, etc.) can add to or detract from overall happiness, by giving those elements a dollar value. Lewis's equation--that happiness equals reality divided by expectations--is from real research. However, I sort of fudged the other equation he devises: that expectation divided by reality equals hope. As for how the profession relates to the story--well, you have to love the irony of a guy who studies happiness for a living and yet isn't aware of the discontent simmering beneath his own roof.

  Q: As the mother of three children, did you find the subject of popularity and the cruel ways in which children often treat one another a difficult one to address?

  A: It is always hardest for me to write a book that has kids in it close to my kids' ages--and Nineteen Minutes does. I think that every parent has probably experienced bullying in some form--either from the point of view of the bully or of the victim--so it's a pretty universal subject. But in many ways, watching my children as they struggled to find their own place in the social hierarchy of school did make them guinea pigs for me as I was writing the book. I know that many of my readers are the age of the young characters in this book, and over the years, some have written me to ask if I'd write a book about bullying. But it wasn't until I began to connect what kids experience in school with how adults treat other adults who are somehow different that I began to piece together the story. Discrimination and difference at the high school level will never end until the adults running these schools can go about their own lives without judging others for their race, religion, sexual orientation, and so forth. How ridiculous is it that America prides itself on being a melting pot, when--as Peter says in the novel--that just means it makes everyone the same?

  Q: Did you have the surprise ending in mind when you began writing Nineteen Minutes, or did it evolve later in the process?

  A: As with all my books, I knew the ending before I wrote the first word.

  Q: You're the author of fourteen novels. As you write more and more books, is it harder to come up with ideas? How do you know when an idea is the right one?

  A: The right idea is the one you can't stop thinking about, the one that's in your head first thing in the morning. The ideas choose me, not the other way around. And as for a shortage (I'm knocking on wood here), I haven't faced that yet. I could tell you what the next four books I'm writing will address.

  Q: You once remarked about your novel My Sister's Keeper that "there are so many shades of gray in real life." How might this statement also apply to Nineteen Minutes?

  A: It's funny you should compare Nineteen Minutes to My Sister's Keeper because I see them as very similar books--they are both very emotional, very gut-wrenching, and they're situations that every parent dreads. And like the moral and ethical complications in My Sister's Keeper, in Nineteen Minutes you have a kid who does something that, on the surface, is absolutely devastating and destructive and will end the lives of others. But--given what these characters have endured--can you blame them? Do I condone school shootings? Absolutely not. But I can understand why a child who's been victimized might feel like he's justified in fighting back. I also think it's fascinating to look at how two good parents might find themselves with a child they do not recognize--a child who does something they can't swallow. Do you stop loving your son just because he's done something horrible? And if you don't, do you start hating yourself? There are so many questions raised by Nineteen Minutes--it's one big gray area to wallow in with your book group!

  Q: Many of your books center on topics that are front and center in the headlines. Is it important for you to not only entertain readers with a riveting story line but to challenge them to think about timely and often controversial topics? Why do you suppose you have gravitated toward this type of storytelling?

  A: I think that sometimes when we don't want to talk about issues that are hard to discuss or difficult to face, it's easier to digest it in fiction instead of nonfiction. I mean, no one goes into their bookstore and says, "Hey, can I read the most recent book about the sexual molestation of kids!?" but if you pick up a novel that has that as its center, you will become involved with the characters and the plot and find yourself dissecting the issue without even realizing it. Fiction allows for moral questioning, but through the back door. Personally, I like books that make you think--books you're still wondering about three days after you finish them; books you hand to a friend and say, "Read this so we can talk about it." I suppose I'm just writing the kind of novel I like to read!

  Q: In the acknowledgments, you write: "To the thousands of kids out there who are a little bit different, a little bit scared, a little bit unpopular: this one's for you." What might readers, particularly younger readers, take from this book and apply to their own lives?

  A: If I could say one thing to the legions of teens out there who wake up every morning and wish they didn't have to go to school, it would be this--and I'm saying it as both a mom and a writer: Stay the course. You will find someone like you; you will fit in one day. And know that even the cool kids, the popular kids, worry that someone will find out their secret: that they worry about fitting in, just like you do.

  TIPS TO ENHANCE YOUR BOOK CLUB

  1. Watch Bowling for Columbine, Michael Moore's Academy Award-winning documentary, in which the filmmaker explores the roots of America's predilection for gun violence.

  2. Have a roundtable discussion on the nonfiction a
spects raised in the book, such as the role of defense attorneys, peer pressure and the quest for popularity, victimization and bullying, and how school shootings are portrayed in the media.

  3. Read "10 Myths About School Shootings" (www.msnbc.msn.com/id/15111438). Which ones apply to Peter and other characters in the book?

  4. View a time line of worldwide school shootings since 1996 at www.infoplease.com/ipa/A0777958.html.

  5. For information about school bullying, visit the website of the National Youth Violence Prevention Resource Center at www.safeyouth.org, as well as www.stopbullyingnow.hrsa.gov, a site designed by and for kids and teens.

  6. For resources on school violence and prevention, visit www.whyfiles.org, www.crf-usa.org/violence, www.ncpc.org, www.keepschoolssafe.org, www.kidshealth.org/teen/school_jobs/bullying/school_violence.html, www.ncdjjdp.org/cpsv, www.mentalhealth.samhsa.gov/schoolviolence.

  7. Visit teenadvice.about.com for articles, fact sheets, crisis hotlines, web links, and additional resources on peer pressure, violence and bullying, and other topics.

  Now, younger fans of Jodi Picoult have something new to love as she teams up with her daughter, Samantha, to write another spellbinding novel.

  BETWEEN THE LINES

  What happens when happily ever after . . . isn't?

  Delilah hates school as much as she loves books. In fact, there's one book in particular she can't get enough of. If anyone knew how many times she has read and reread the sweet little fairy tale she found in the library, especially the popular kids, she'd be sent to social Siberia . . . forever.

  To Delilah, though, this fairy tale is more than just words on the page. Sure, there's a handsome (well, okay, hot) prince, and a castle, and an evil villain, but it feels as if there's something deeper going on. And one day, Delilah finds out there is. Turns out, this Prince Charming is real, and a certain fifteen-year-old loner has caught his eye. But they're from two different worlds, and how could it ever possibly work?

  Together with her daughter Samantha Van Leer, #1 New York Times bestselling author Jodi Picoult has written a classic fairy tale with a uniquely modern twist. Readers will be swept away by this story of a girl who crosses the border between reality and fantasy in a perilous search for her own happy ending.

  Coming Summer 2012

  A special collaboration from Jodi and her daughter Samantha Between the Lines

  Soon to be Available from Emily Bestler Books and Simon Pulse Excerpt from Between the Lines copyright (c) 2012 by Jodi Picoult

  OLIVER

  JUST SO YOU KNOW, WHEN THEY SAY "ONCE UPON a time" . . . they're lying.

  It's not once upon a time. It's not even twice upon a time. It's hundreds of times, over and over, every time someone opens up the pages of this dusty old book.

  "Oliver," my best friend says. "Checkmate."

  I follow Frump's gaze and stare down at the chessboard, which isn't really a chessboard at all. It's just squares scratched onto the sand of Everafter Beach, and a bunch of accommodating pixies who don't mind acting as pawns and bishops and queens. There isn't a chess set in the story, so we have to make do with what we've got, and of course we have to clean up all evidence when we're done, or else someone might assume that there is more to the story than what they know.

  I can't remember when I first realized that life, as I knew it, wasn't real. That this role I performed over and over was just that--a role. And that in order for me to play it, there had to be another party involved--namely one of those large, round, flat faces that blurred the sky above us every time the story began. The relationships you see on the page aren't always as they seem. When we're not acting our parts, we're all just free to go about our business. It's quite complicated, really. I'm Prince Oliver, but I'm not Prince Oliver. When the book is closed, I can stop pretending that I'm interested in Seraphima or that I'm fighting a dragon, and instead I can hang out with Frump or taste the concoctions Queen Maureen likes to dream up in the kitchen or take a dip in the ocean with the pirates, who are actually quite nice fellows. In other words, we all have lives outside the lives that we play when a Reader opens the book. For everyone else here, that knowledge is enough. They're happy repeating the story endlessly, and staying trapped onstage even when the Readers are gone. But me, I've always wondered. It stands to reason that if I have a life outside of this story, so do the Readers whose faces float above us. And they're not trapped inside the book. So where exactly are they? And what do they do when the book is closed?

  Once, a Reader--a very young one--knocked the book over and it fell open on a page that has no one but me written into it. For a full hour, I watched the Otherworld go by. These giants stacked bricks made of wood, with letters written on their sides, creating monstrous buildings. They dug their hands into a deep table filled with same sort of sand we have on Everafter Beach. They stood in front of easels, like the one Rapscullio likes to use when he paints, but these artists used a unique style-- dipping their hands into the paint and smearing it across the paper in swirls of color. Finally, one of the Others, who looked to be as old as Queen Maureen, leaned forward and frowned. Children! This is not how we treat books, she said, before shutting me out.

  When I told the others what I had seen, they just shrugged. Queen Maureen suggested I see Orville about my strange dreams, and ask for a sleeping potion. Frump, who is my best friend both inside the story and out, believed me. "What difference does it make, Oliver?" he asked. "Why waste time and energy thinking about a place or a person you'll never be?" Immediately I regretted bringing it up. Frump wasn't always a dog--he was written into the story as Figgins, my best buddy from childhood, who was transformed by Rapscullio into a common hound. Because it's only a flashback of text, the only time he's ever read he's seen as a dog--which is why he stays in that form even when we're offstage.

  Frump captures my queen. "Checkmate," he says.

  "Why do you always beat me?" I sigh.

  "Why do you always let me?" Frump says, and he scratches behind his ear. "Stupid fleas."

  When we're working, Frump doesn't speak--he just barks. He follows me around like, well, a faithful pup. You'd never guess, when he's acting, that in real life he's always bossing the rest of us around.

  "I think I saw a tear at the top of page forty-seven," I say as casually as I can, although I've been thinking of nothing but getting back there to investigate since first spotting it. "Want to come check it out?"

  "Honestly, Oliver. Not that again." Frump rolls his eyes. "You're like a one-trick pony."

  "Did you call me?" Socks trots closer. He's my trusty steed, and again, a shining example of how what you see isn't always what's true. Although he snorts and stamps with the confidence of a stallion on the pages of our world, when the book is closed he's a nervous mess with the self-confidence of a gnat.

  I smile at him, because if I don't, he's going to think I'm angry at him. He's that sensitive. "No, we didn't . . ."

  "I distinctly heard the word pony . . ."

  "It was just an expression," Frump says.

  "Well, now that I'm here, tell me the truth," Socks says, turning in a half circle. "This saddle totally makes my butt look fat, doesn't it?"

  "No," I say immediately, as Frump vigorously shakes his head.

  "You're all muscle," Frump says. "In fact I was going to ask if you'd been working out."

  "You're just saying that to make me feel better." Socks sniffles. "I knew I shouldn't have had that last carrot at breakfast."

  "You look great, Socks," I insist. "Honestly." But he tosses his mane and sulks back toward the other side of the beach.

  Frump rolls onto his back. "If I have to listen to that stupid horse whine one more time--"

  "That's exactly what I'm talking about," I interrupt. "What if you didn't have to? What if you could be anywhere--anything--you wanted to be?"

  I have this dream. It's kind of silly, but I see myself walking down a street I've never seen before, in a village I can't identify. A gir
l hurries past me, her dark hair whipping behind her like a flag, and in her haste she crashes into me. When I reach out to help her up, I feel a spark ignite between us. Her eyes are the color of honey, and I cannot turn away from them. Finally, I say, and when I kiss her, she tastes of mint and winter and nothing like Seraphima--

  "Yeah, right," Frump says, interrupting me. "How many career opportunities are there for a basset hound?"

  "You're only a dog because you were written that way," I say. "What if you could change that?"

  He laughs. "Change it. Change the story. Yeah, that's a good one, Ollie. While you're at it, why don't you turn the ocean into grape juice and make the mermaids fly?"

  Maybe he's right, maybe it is just me. Everyone else in this book seems to be perfectly happy with the fact that they are part of a story; that they are enslaved into doing and saying the same things over and over, like in a play that gets performed for eternity. They probably think that the people in the Otherworld have the same sorts of lives we do. I guess I find it hard to believe that readers get up at the same hour every morning and eat the same breakfast every day and go sit in the same chair for hours and have the same conversations with their parents and go to bed and wake up and do it all over again. I think more likely they lead the most incredible lives--and by incredible, I mean: with free will. I wonder all the time what that would be like: to feel the book opening yet not beg the queen to let me go on a quest. To avoid getting trapped by fairies and run ragged by a villain. To fall in love with a girl whose eyes are the color of honey. To see someone I don't recognize, and whose name I don't know. I'm not fussy, really. I wouldn't mind being a butcher instead of a prince. Or swimming across the ocean to be hailed as a legendary athlete. Or picking a fight with someone who cuts in front of me. I wouldn't mind doing anything other than the same old things I have done for as long as I can remember. I guess I just have to believe there's more to the world than what's inside these pages. Or maybe it's just that I desperately want to believe that.

 
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