Reviewed September 29, 2016.
Little, Brown and Company, 2016. 228 pages.
Granted, this is a message book. But the message is timely, and the execution is carried out with a mostly light touch.
Central to the book is Dèja, a 10-year-old girl who lives with her family in an apartment in a homeless shelter in Brooklyn. She's starting 5th grade in 2016 at a new school.
The new school is the best one she's ever attended, and she makes two good friends -- a new boy from Arizona and a Muslim girl -- and she loves her teacher, Miss Garcia.
But the class starts a unit talking about what happened on September 11, 2001. The school has windows looking out on the Manhattan skyline.
Dèja knows absolutely nothing about the Twin Towers. She's confused and shocked by what her classmates tell her -- as it gradually unfolds in conversation.
Dèja having a Muslim friend also plays into it, as she is very sensitive about the events as well.
I don't think it's a spoiler to say that Dèja pretty quickly guesses that her father's inability to work and frequent headaches have to do with September 11. Sure enough, she snoops into his locked suitcase and learns that he was a survivor. They eventually do talk about it.
What startled me most about this book was realizing that kids today don't have any memory at all of the Twin Towers falling. They weren't born yet. In fact, the teacher in the book was a fifth-grade student when the towers fell and saw them fall through the school windows.
So yes, the plot is a tiny bit stilted -- with a lot of the events turning on the teacher's lesson plans. But I think it's lovely that this book is here, a jumping off place for discussing that pivotal event and talking about what connects us as Americans.
Coincidentally, just this last week my cousin visited the 9/11 memorial in New York City. So I had just heard about and seen pictures of the striking imagery and the wonderful detail that flowers go next to the names of those whose birthday it would be.
And the story also stands as the story of a kid in a homeless shelter trying to cope, trying to make friends. It's not a long book, but it's a lovely contribution and will give kids much to think about and talk about.