Title: Towers Falling
Author: Jewell Parker Rhodes
Summary: Deja doesn't know why she and her family have gone from bad to worse over the years, her father constantly losing jobs and sinking into deep depressions. Now they're at their lowest point yet, living in a shelter. But her new school is a boon, with new friends and a teacher who asks them to consider how history affects them personally. Is it possible that she could begin to understand the mystery of her father's illness?
The answer reaches back to a September morning, fifteen years ago.
First Impressions: This was SO HARD to read, and yet so wrenchingly honest. Wah.
Later On: With last year being the 15th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks, there was a little flurry of books published to tie into that, especially since kids in school now have little to no direct memory of it. At the same time, while the adults in their lives have this massive shared memory, it is still so swamped in pain that we find it difficult to talk about.
Rhodes riffs on this disconnect, and how it could lead to exactly Deja's situation where she has no awareness of the 9/11 attacks at all, and learning about it, even years after the fact, brings about the same wrenching emotions that we suffered watching it unfold live. (Just as many people saw it live on TV, she sees the airplanes slam into the towers in a YouTube video.) She also witnesses Islamophobia visited upon the family of her friend Sabeen, and realizes that this is another wound on the American psyche.
I also appreciated that ultimately, her father's physical illness and his mental illness are portrayed in the same way. Just as he can't help the days that he's coughing too hard to get out of bed (from breathing in the dust and debris on 9/11) he also can't help the days he can't get out of bed due to depression. Deja's revelations are not a panacea for either illness, but they do help her learn to understand her father better, and in that way their strained relationship starts to rebuild.
Like I said in my first impressions, this was hard to read, so it's very difficult to assess it. However, I do think the honesty of this book, its acknowledgement of pain and how it ripples outward even when it's something you never experienced yourself, will speak to kids, especially those living with the aftereffects of 9/11.
More: Ms. Yingling Reads