As an adult who had the events of 9/11 seared into his memory (almost 20 years ago!), this was an emotionally hard book to get through. Listening to it on audio, it felt as if my heart was ripped out, handed to me, then taken away, thrown down, and kicked across the room (I’m currently picking the lint and dust bunnies off of it now). I know that sounds a little melodramatic, but this was a powerful two-part story of the immediate and long-range impact of that day.
In one story, we have the fictional nine-year-old Brandon who joins his father at work at the top of the North Tower on September 11, 2001. In the other, we meet the fictional Reshmina, a girl living in a poor Afghan village 18 years after 9/11. Though far apart in time, these two stories will intertwine in a heartbreaking way.
There are clear messages in the book about the corrosive nature of revenge, and that despite its good intentions in Afghanistan, the United States has caused its share of damage and tragedy to the Afghan people. This is not anti-war message, per se, but a jolting reminder that Americans are not always seen as the “good guys.” Gratz also harkens back to the sense of unity the world felt in the wake of the 9/11 attacks, a unity that is conspicuously lacking 20 years later.
For children to young to remember 9/11, this book may be seen as a gripping piece of historical fiction. For adults though (and of course, I’m only speaking for myself), this story has the power to hit us in a far deeper way.