Nineteen Minutes/Comeback by Picoult/Fontaine

February 27, 2011
By , Oceanside, CA
Fighting to Survive
(Some mistakes are more damaging than others...)

Childhood is the most impressionable time in life. This period should be carefree; it should represent innocence and protection from worry and fear. All too often, the opposite occurs, and major traumas change many children’s outlook of their place in the world. These devastating events leave wounds and scars which never fully heal. For the two main characters in Nineteen Minutes and Comeback, Peter and Mia, incidents at the beginning of their lives cause them to turn to harmful choices as they desperately try to numb their pain. They attempt to seek relief, anything to escape - even temporarily - from their personal nightmares.

In Nineteen Minutes, Peter Houghton’s life started out very painfully. While growing up, he was both physically and emotionally bullied by other students from elementary school all the way to high school. He was desperate for someone - just anyone - to hear him. He found comfort in talking to Josie Cormier, his closest friend and the one person who would stand up for him. However, as the two entered high school, people formed their impassable cliques. Josie’s loyalty vanished; she turned her back on him, making a choice that left Peter alone to the other students’ horrific bullying.

Another person’s struggle for survival is told in Comeback. When Mia was just a baby, she was molested by her father. As Mia grew up, she desperately tried to find a way to dampen her terrible pain. When nothing else worked, she began to self-medicate with drugs. She turned her back on her friends, her family, on all that was familiar. When escaping mentally through the use of drugs was no longer enough, she tried to escape physically by cutting herself and attempting to take her self completely out of the picture. Her choices left her feeling even more alone, as she abandoned her family for a new dangerous life - a life that was removed from her past. She didn’t care if her new life was in any way better than her old one. She just wanted to try to escape from her agony.

These stories deal with the aftermath of two terrible crimes inflicted upon the young characters. Peter and Mia both turn to harmful ways of relieving their pain, which has been buried deep inside for so very long. The two stories start out with the characters at the peak of their heartbreak. This quickly gets the reader hooked - wanting to care about these people, wanting more and more - and then takes the reader through each personal story.

Nineteen Minutes takes you right to the center of a school shooting and the chaos it brings. Very quickly, you learn that Peter is the person responsible for the shooting, but that’s not the important part of the story. Nope, the message is much deeper than that. So deep that it flashes back about seventeen years ago when Peter and Josie were at the peak of their close friendship. However, as the two grew older and the plot deepens, Josie falls into the popular crowd, leaving Peter to fight his battles alone. When Peter has no one left to help him, he turns to video games - an escape into a world of imaginary violence. It is here that Peter develops an odd obsession with guns. It is here that Peter learns to seek revenge upon enemies, whether they be real or imagined.

In Comeback, the story starts out with fifteen-year-old Mia and her mother Claire in a plane headed to the Czech Republic, where Mia is being sent for rehab. Mia has become so damaged that Claire sends her to Morava, a place where people who drink, do drugs, starve themselves, or cut themselves go to get healed in more ways than one. This separation tears Claire apart as she struggles to bring her one and only daughter back to life again. It is in Morava where Mia finally finds her self again. She learns to find comfort in the feeling of emotions, even the painful ones.

The power in these books comes from their deep message within the story. Nineteen Minutes is not just about a school shooting, it is about how truly destructive bullying can be. When people are being bullied, they wonder why this is happening to them, and why no one is helping them. When they struggle to answer these deep questions, they start to get desperate, which, in Peter’s case, leads to a severe mental breakdown. At this point, he takes the attention - which no one has ever willingly given him - in the only way he knows how. In some ways, Peter's pain is no different from Mia's. When a child is abused at such a young age, they have no idea how to cope with their problems, their fears, their anxiety, their guilt, their pain, so they bottle up how they are feeling and try to move on. Unfortunately, as Mia grew older, her bottled-up feelings start to push to the surface and become so devastating that she turns to that numbing feeling that comes from drugs. However, like any addict, she starts wanting more and more as she craves that numbness from pain and that high from drugs.

Nineteen Minutes and Comeback are very powerful books that left me shaken long after I read them. Peter and Mia both suffered at the hands - and words - of their tormentors. For one, pain was turned outward; for the other, inward. Pain is pain. I must tell you that one of these books is fiction, and the other is nonfiction. Would you be able to tell which story is made up and which actually happened?
Maybe. Maybe not. What saddens me is the thought that bullying and abuse truly occur, probably much more than any of us know, though one writer - the one who suffered, yet allowed others to know his or her story - was brave enough to talk about it to the world. This allows others, those who are being bullied and abused even today, to know that they are not alone. There is always someone who understand. There is always hope.

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