Monday, February 11, 2008

Nineteen Minutes

"At fourteen you don't need sickness or death for tragedy." ~Jessamyn West

I just started reading Nineteen Minutes, by Jodi Picoult. Anyone else read it? It's about a school shooting, and from what I've heard, she delves into the social aspect of cliques in HS and what leads one boy to become so desperate he brings a gun to school. I'm only a few chapters in, and so far it's...OK. I do like her writing a lot, and the book is seamless and easy to read. But there's something that has rubbed me the wrong way, something I almost can't put a finger on. It might be the way she creates caricatures of the high school students, in their various groups, or the way she makes the mother of the shooter (and one of the primary victims) these Every-women that we should relate to, understand, and forgive for their shortcomings.

It's probably just that I teach high school, and so any attempt to write a fictional account of what happens in teenagers' daily lives naturally falls short. They are much more complex creatures than the media gives them credit for. And it is probably that part of me (that is not a parent) that cannot excuse mothers and fathers who are absent from their child's lives, who buy their children cars for their 16th birthdays because it is easier than taking a pay cut and being home in the evenings to go to games and look over homework and talk about tough times, who think their children's bedrooms should be off-limits to adults, who think it's OK to give your child unlimited privacy on the computer because, after all, back in the '60s that's all they wanted too, privacy and space and a place to rage against authority.

But I digress.

One thing I have learned over 10 years of teaching adolescents: as much as they complain about and rebel against it, they want structure and boundaries. They want someone to tell them no. They want to know where that line of "no" is, even if they cross it (and they will). They want to be loved and respected for who they are, even if that changes from day to day. They *want* you to know who they are. They want desperately to belong. And they want it to be OK to make mistakes.

Over Christmas break, I had a student who graduated 2 years ago return to visit. We were talking about college, and she said, "You were the only person who ever told me it was okay if I didn't like college right away, and if I wanted to transfer. You were the only person who made it seem like that was an option, that it wouldn't be the end of the world."

Teenagers think everything *is* the end of the world, and they need us to provide a perspective they don't yet have.

We'll see how Nineteen Minutes unfolds. It might prove to be a valuable novel, an insightful look at the world of adolescence. I hope so.


Sarita Leone said...

I think I'm going to pass on this book. I'm curious to hear what you think by the end of it, though.

So glad you enjoyed The Red Tent! :)

Marianne Arkins said...

Every now and then I question my decision to be a SAHM for my DD. It's hard on my husband to be the sole bread-winner, hard on us to maintain our household... finances are always a worry.

And then sometimes, someone says something that makes me realize that it's okay if my DD doesn't have STUFF. She has ME.

So, thanks, even though I know you weren't intending your comments as a message to me. :-)

windycindy said...

I could not agree more. I have two teenage sons and have been a SAHM for 19 years. I can say that I don't regret it. Thanks,Cindi

Allie Boniface said...

I absolutely think staying at home for your children is the #1 best thing a parent can do, if it's financially possible. Too many parents think they need to "provide" a 3000 sqaure foot house, and 2 SUVs, and private sports and music lessons, and week-long vacations to warm destinations for their children... so naturally, they *have* to work full-time. The only thing you need to provide is love, shelter, safety, and a secure place for a child to take risks and learn to become well-adjusted within this world.

LaskiGal said...

I am so with you . . . Once I started teaching it was easy to see that boundaries=you care enough about me to tell me NO. After realizing students didn't need another friend (a common first-year teacher mistake), I practiced my "Firm, Fair, and Consistent." I found that students responded to that so much more--they learned respect--both for me and for themselves.

I so agree about Picoult. Although I really enjoy her writing style, I had some issues with her characterization as well--sometimes I found that characters and in some cases, the stories themselves, were a bit too contrived--trying too hard, maybe???