Written in time for the 15th anniversary of the attack on the World Trade Center, this short book is written to explain these awful events to youth who were born after they took place. It is set in a school in Brooklyn, modeled on the school from which the events were able to be seen from classroom windows, a horrifying thought in itself. The three main characters, are 5th graders Déja, Ben and Sabeen; Déja is the narrator.
As an early assignment, they are asked to make an artistic rendering of their home, but as she and her family have recently moved into Avalon, a homeless shelter in the neighborhood, Déja has misgivings about revealing her situation. She does make a box of their room and places inside paper cuttings of the people in her family that her brother makes. Though she is somewhat embarased by it, especially after seeing the large houses of her friends, Déja receives praise for including people in it, for seeing that family makes a home. As the class goes from discussing family to larger social units, eventually the topic of the hole in the skyline of Manhattan comes up for discussion. Déja has never heard of 9/11. Her father becomes agitated when she tells him what they are studying and wants to pull her out of this great new school. She begins to wonder why he suffers from depression and can’t work and sets out to find the link between him and 9/11.
Sabeen also has a connection to 9/11 as she wears a hijab and is frequently targeted. Ben too is connected as his father fought in Iraq after 9/11. So he sets out to help Déja find the answers she needs.
I found this to be compelling reading, particularly the beginning, as Déja reveals herself to the readers, becomes friends with Ben and Sabeen and they begin to work on assignments together. They are all well developed characters and it is great see their friendship grow. The story is told with sensitivity and care as it is directed at children in the middle grades. Only the resolution of the book did not feel as exceptional. I felt that something was lacking; it was abrupt. However it leaves room for discussion.
It is hard to imagine that there is a whole new generation of kids who did not experience 9/11, but this book will do a great job of helping them understand the events of that September day fifteen years ago.