This is a week for kids with guns. In Jodi Picoult’s new novel, Nineteen Minutes, Peter Houghton, a 17-year-old who gets bullied one time too many, shoots up people at his high school (the title refers to how long it takes him to commit the bloody rampage). Though she’s written more than a dozen best-sellers, Picoult is one of those underappreciated authors who has had a steady, solid career. She’s not exactly fashionable, but she writes sympathetic, ungimmicky prose that is sensitive to the evolving relationships between kids and parents, and between kids and kids, as filtered through the lens of today’s Big (capital B) moral issues. Her last book, My Sister’s Keeper, for example, was about a girl who was conceived to provide body parts for her older, leukemic sister.

If Picoult’s novels represent a kind of thriller of social responsibility, Ishmael Beah’s A Long Way Gone: Memoirs of a Boy Soldier is a book about social — and moral, political and emotional — disaster. Beah tells his true story about being forced into service as a child soldier in Sierra Leone’s army after the death of his parents. For three years, he killed more people than he could count, until UNICEF rescued him. Beah moved to the United States in 1998, graduated from Oberlin College in 2004, and now lives in New York City.

Jodi Picoult reads Nineteen Minutes at Vroman’s, 695 E. Colorado Blvd., Pasadena; Thurs., April 5, 7 p.m. (626) 449-5320. Ishmael Beah reads A Long Way Gone: Memoirs of a Boy Soldier as part of the ALOUD at Central Library Series at 630 W. Fifth St., dwntwn.; Thurs., April 5, 7 p.m. (213) 228-7025.

LA Weekly