Wednesday, September 4, 2019

Reading on a Theme: Memories of 9/11

We are coming up on the anniversary of 9/11. Today I wanted to bring you a collection of stories that grapple with the events and repercussions of that event. For readers who are too young to remember the 9/11 attacks and for those who were not yet born, these books can help convey the emotional impact of that day.

Family Ties:
It's the 15th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks, and Deja and her 5th-grade classmates don't understand why they have to learn about something that happened before they were born. Deja is more worried about her family's money problems, babysitting her siblings, navigating a new school, and whether or not her new classmates will shun her once they learn that she lives in a homeless shelter. As Deja and her friends Ben and Sabeen learn more about the Twin Towers, they find that they have very personal connections to that day. Towers Falling is a heartfelt book, written a manner than is very accessible for middle grade students. I loved the friendships in Jewell Parker Rhodes's book.

Unwanted Fame:
On her first birthday Abbi Hope Goldstein became the face of 9/11 when she captured in a famous photograph and dubbed Baby Hope. Now, fifteen years later, Abbi is looking for one summer of normal; one summer where she's not Baby Hope; one more summer before her 9/11-related medical issues catch up to her. She's not going to find it, but she will find Noah Stern, who has his own reasons for obsessing over the Baby Hope photo. Hope and Other Punchlines is a beautiful, sad, poignant, funny, and hopeful read. I absolutely loved the relationship between Abbi and Noah. Their banter was so endearing. Julie Buxbaum's books always perfectly balance serious subjects with a bit of lightheartedness and a whole lot of humanity.

Confronting Islamophobia:
A Very Large Expanse of Sea is set in 2002, a year after 9/11, and just existing in America as a hijabi teen is extremely difficult. Shirin wears her indifference like armor. She's all angles and jabs and has no time for anyone. But something about Ocean James--maybe it's the fact that he won't accept a brushoff--chips away at Shirin's barriers. But as Ocean and Shirin come together two worlds collide, bringing out so much prejudice and vitriol. Ah. This is a lovely book. Tahereh Mafi excels at bringing the reader into Shirin's world. She delivers the emotions, but the book also really makes the reader think. The character development is exceptional, and I loved the breakdancing. 

The Past and Present:
All We Have Left by Wendy Mills tells the story of Jesse, a 2016 teenager whose brother died in the 9/11 attacks, and Alia, a Muslim-American teen who is trapped in the north tower on that fateful day. The book alternates between the two timelines, eventually weaving the stories of these two girls together.  Wendy Mills does such an excellent job transporting her readers into the towers and taking them through all the psychological and physical struggles of her characters. In Jesse's timeline, we see how 9/11 has a lasting impact for the families of the victims and the survivors. The book handles issues of religion very respectfully and thoughtfully. This book impacted me deeply. It's a powerful, beautiful, emotional, and ultimately healing read.

The Comfort of Strangers:
On the morning of September 11, 2001, Kyle Donohue has to evacuate his lower Manhattan high school. Crossing the Brooklyn Bridge on foot on his way home he finds a girl wearing wings. She doesn't remember her name or how she got there. Kyle's father is a police officer, and Kyle worries about the danger his father is in. Meanwhile, his mother is trapped in California after the United States shuts down its airspace. Though expansive in its appeal, Gae Polisner's book focuses on how the events of 9/11 and its immediate aftermath directly impact two teenagers. The narration alternates between Kyle and the girl and between prose and verse. The Memory of Things is a powerful story that is beautifully written.

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