Monday, July 2, 2012

Who Survives?

Love Is the Higher Law
I remember having a conversation with a family friend a year or so after 9/11. We were talking about humanity and the good and the seriously ugly that comes out of humanity. And after we talked about some pretty ugly things, one being all the people who died on 9/11, I made a comment that quieted us both. I said (not verbatim), "Well, there wasn't a single call of vengeance or hate or anger that came from those buildings or those planes. They were all of love." I remember him pondering that for a moment and saying, "I guess humans aren't so bad after all." We lived through 9/11. We remember where we were that day. What we were doing. Who we were with. But our children and students don't. I am teaching middle school students who were born after that horrible day. They hear about the horror, but none remember it. So how do we teach them about a day we will never forget? David Levithan has the right idea with Love is the Higher Law. He talks about the people who survived that day. And you didn't have to be in the towers to be a survivor. 

Claire was sitting in homeroom when it happened. When she saw people bustling around and whispering to her teacher, she was scared something had happened to her mother. What she didn't expect was a tragedy that would take so many people's mothers and fathers. Jasper was sleeping. With his parents in Korea, he was using the time to indulge in late nights and later mornings and had disconnected the phone. For a family halfway around the world with their son in the middle of a terrorist attack, nothing can be scarier than him not picking up the phone. Peter is in Tower Records, picking out the next great album and day dreaming about his date that night with a cute boy named... Jasper. When he walks outside, he removes his headphones because any song he heard as he watched the second plane hit the towers would have been forever tainted by the horror he was witnessing. 

When the towers went down in NYC, many people died. But while many people survived, a small piece of them went down with the towers. Everything stopped in the city that never sleeps and certainly never stops. And three young adults all living very different lives found their lives intertwining and never losing sight of what their city lost: the facade of safety and imperviousness. Claire, Jasper, and Peter all survived in very different ways, but they carry the towers and what happened that day with them each and every day. 

The importance of this book is that it is not a dictation of facts of what happened that day. It is a personal, human story of three teenagers living through the scariest day of their lives. I think this is a story that teens today could not only relate to, but also get a better image of what happened that day. But the story doesn't stop with that day. It continues for days and years after, showing the true influence 9/11 made on those kids. What was particularly important for me was how different their reactions are. When we look at the way people deal with tragedy, we have to acknowledge the widely differing reactions and this book chronicled three of those. In particular, Jasper was unable to get it out of his mind while Peter just wanted to move on with his life. 

While this book wouldn't tell the whole story of what happened that day, it would be a great companion to any lesson on the subject for teens. It is very realistic and upfront about the lives of these three teens, a skill Levithan is a master at. He doesn't hide behind stereotypes and fluff, but rather delivers a story that will leave you different by the last page. This is a short story, a little over 150 pages, so it is good for an older reader who struggles to focus on longer books or as a part of a larger unit about this time period. Levithan does it again. He brings the humanity out of the shadows and into the light. 

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