Friday, May 11, 2007

19 Minutes

I stayed up late last night to finish "Nineteen Minutes". I had conflicting feelings about this book - it didn't have the "blow-your-mind" twist at the end like my all time favorite, "My Sisters Keeper", but it was still a great book. The story revolves around Peter, 17, a nice sensitive boy from a great family who wakes up one day, takes 4 guns to school and shoots dozens of his classmates, killing ten. His justification for the massacre is clear to him; self-defense, "they started it" he claims. In this book, Picoult delves into the often talked about but seldom understood subject of bullying. While it seems like a trite and weak defense to adults, even those that were unpopular when they were younger, to a teen constant bullying can be the focus of their world. At first I was very skeptical about this, thinking that nothing justifies wiping out 10 lives and forever damaging countless others. While this is undoubtedly true, I can remembered what it was like to be a teen that just didn't quite fit in. In high school I was just outside the edges of true popularity, which is sometimes far worse than being a complete reject because you torture yourself over every single action and interaction with your peers. You can be accepted into "the group" one day and then completely left out the next. The bullying comes in as a way to bind yourself to the group by picking on those that aren't in your circle and could never hope to be. Even the "most popular" kids feel forced to maintain their status by isolating themselves from the "losers". It turns into a vicious circle where everyone is a victim. Thankfully I was saved from that spiral by a close group of friends and my athletic and academic focus. In 19 minutes, Peter endures torture from his peers every day of his live for over 10 years until he meets criteria for PTSD (Post traumatic stress disorder), slips into a dissociative state after a humiliating incident and goes on a shooting rampage. You may have thought that PTSD is just for victims of war or rape, but research has shown that a single episode of being bullied can be more damaging to an adolescent than sexual abuse. In a society where beauty, talent and "fitting in" is valued above all else, our youth are developing more and more insecurities that lead to mental illnesses and violent incidents. Unless we find a way to change society, our youth will continue to lose the battle against themselves.

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