Sunday, 29 April 2007

Nineteen Minutes by Jodi Picoult

Nineteen Minutes
Jodi Picoult
(Hodder & Stoughton €??)

WHAT a stroke of luck for bestselling writer Jodi Picoult that her story of a school killer who rampages through the site of his torment, shooting dead the classmates who made his life a misery, should come out the very month of another American school massacre.

The catchcry of her shooter - "They started it" - even eerily echoes Cho Seung-Hui's "You decided to spill my blood".

Nineteen Minutes can be confusing at first, since no normal reader pays much attention to chapter headings, which here say things like 'Three Months Before'.

When you get a handle on the way the story skips back and forth in time, Picoult's killer and his victims take hold of the action.

Jeered, brutalised, patronised by teachers, ignored by his father, disowned by his popular brother, Peter is a perfect butt for hurtful tricks. He keeps seeking friendship, unable to understand why people hate him.

Central to the story, in a pattern familiar to Picoult fans, are a mother and daughter, distanced from each other by work (mom's a judge).

Daughter Josie is the hinge of the story; girlfriend of the school sports star and leading bully, she's also an on-off friend of Peter, the weedy nerd with specs and a backpack of guns.

The writer uses cringeworthy US slang - cool, hot, brainiac, neat freak - to set the teen theme. It works, as does her oddly cutout set of characters, against tragedy that might demand deeper writing.

A thriller to the last page, Nineteen Minutes overleaps its limitations. Don't miss it.

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