105 pages 3 hours read

Jodi Picoult

Nineteen Minutes

Fiction | Novel | Adult | Published in 2007

A modern alternative to SparkNotes and CliffsNotes, SuperSummary offers high-quality Study Guides with detailed chapter summaries and analysis of major themes, characters, and more. For select classroom titles, we also provide Teaching Guides with discussion and quiz questions to prompt student engagement.

Summary and Study Guide


Nineteen Minutes is a harrowing, suspenseful narrative about a high school shooting and its aftermath. The mass shooting takes place at Sterling High, in New Hampshire, and lasts for the nineteen minutes of the book’s titular namesake. Peter Houghton, the seventeen-year-old school shooter, changes the lives of many people on March 6, 2007, when he opens fire on his fellow classmates. Peter thinks to stop the bullying that he’s endured since the first day of kindergarten, yet his actions upend the entire town of Sterling and beyond. When Peter is apprehended, the town must make sense of the tragedy while also taking a closer look at its own faults and shortcomings.

Picoult’s novel weaves two timelines together: flashbacks, and the present as it unfolds around Peter and the developing case that will decide his fate. The narrative begins on the day of the shooting by detailing the lives of several members of the community, including Josie Cormier, Peter’s one-time friend and love interest; Alex Cormier, Josie’s mother and a superior court judge who is slated to sit on Peter’s case; Patrick Ducharme, a police detective seeking Peter’s motive (and who is also Alex’s future love interest); Jordan McAfee, Peter’s lawyer; and Peter’s parents, Lacy and Lewis. Others are also involved, as Peter’s actions affect the town far after the day of his mass shooting.

Themes of fitting in, bullying, parenthood, love, and loss fill the pages of Picoult’s novel as characters attempt to discover themselves in the wake of Peter’s crime. The popular kids are Peter’s primary target, and as a member of this group, Josie loses many friends. Her boyfriend, Matt Royston, is one of Peter’s victims. Only Matt has been shot twice, unlike everyone else. Josie was with Matt on that fateful day, yet she cannot remember anything due to amnesia.Josie, however, might hold the key to discovering what happened. Patrick wants to push Josie for answers, yet he doesn’t want to step in the way of her tough-as-nails mother, and he also doesn’t want to cause Josie anymore pain.

Picoult reaches back to Peter’s first day of bullying to flesh out his character. When most people envision a school shooter, they seea monster who acted with premeditation, and for no reason. Picoult shows evidence of bullying and Peter’s desire to fit in from early in life. Picoult doesn’t judge, however. She leaves the evidence on the page and allows the reader to assess the issues that may have led to Peter’s actions. Though it’s indisputable that Peter has killed ten people and wounded others, it’s also clear that Peter has been a victim his entire life. These revelations by way of flashback will help the defense to paint a picture of Peter Houghton as a child with no recourse to rational thought. Due to his bullying, and his age, his impulses kicked in. His lawyer, Jordan, creates a defense that explains Peter’s actions as symptomatic of PTSD. Jordan seeks to prove that Peter has a form of battered-woman syndrome. He was attacked for so long that he feared being a victim, even when there wasn’t a present danger. He was in a dissociative state—disconnected from reality—when he carried out the mass shooting that claimed so many lives.

The prosecution, however, argues that Peter acted with premeditation and is a cold-blooded killer. He planned and plotted and intended to inflict more harm. The two sides present evidence and make their case in a fast-paced trial that doesn’t really leave any winners. When last-minute evidence, including Josie finally remembering what happened on the day of the shooting, surfaces, the entire courtroom, and the town of Sterling itself, is turned upside-down by the implications. Patrick, Alex, Peter, Josie, and the Houghtons must all address the truth, including Josie’s blistering confession, and then attempt to make sense of their roles in the carnage and its aftermath.