(review copy from publisher)
David Levithan tells a story of three teens, Claire, Peter and Jasper whose lives entwine following the tragedy of September 11. The three live in NYC and they experience the day in different ways. Peter sees the second plane hit the World Trade Center. In the confusion and panic following the attack Claire is just trying to find her little sister. Jasper sleeps through the attack completely, waking up to a different world.
Peter and Jasper met at a party "before" and had planned a date for the evening of September 11 but the events of the day push normal aside. Claire's home is so close to Ground Zero that her family cannot return home. Levithan's story follows these three through the days and weeks after the attack. Images of candles, memorials, handbills asking for information about the missing weave through their story.
I read this book soon after its publication. It evoked such vivid memories and emotions that it has taken some time to review. Levithan's characters mirror the shock, the hollowness, the fear, the unbearable sadness and grief, as well as the compassion and wish to do something -- anything to help, that were present in every heart.
Bustling at the beginning of school, we heard the news about the first strike at the World Trade Center from a parent but we were busy with classes. I was reading to a class of fourth graders when their teacher walked over to whisper the news of the Pentagon attack in my ear. I had to keep reading. My library became a gathering place as we rigged a sort of antennae on the television to catch the broadcast news. Today, every classroom in the district can bring up a choice of news channels by pushing one button on the TV remote. That day, like the rest of the world, we were scrambling.
A teacher aide who had family working in and around the World Trade Center came by frequently to check in. Many of us had college kids who had just started their freshman year at school. Away from their families, our cell phones rang as they watched the news from residence hall lobbies and student centers.
Parents streamed to the school, not to take their children home, but to just be with others and hold each other up as the horror unfolded. My library office was the site for these gatherings. We all kept teaching, kept reading and tried to keep our voices level and maintain a sense of normalcy for the young people in our care. I was proud to be part of that faculty that day.
At a nearby campus in our district, a teacher realized that her husband was in one of those towers, there on business day trip. He did not return home.
Although it has been over a year since I read this story, Levithan's writing has stayed with me. His story takes place in New York City but it also took place across the country. Claire and Jasper and Peter are not deeply compelling characters in their own right but their story contains many of my memories of that day in crystal clarity.