I still struggle with the fact that 9/11/2001 is taught as history, it seems so current and fresh in my mind, that I really struggle with how works of fiction (and non fiction too) try to tell me about the pulse and the mood and the impact of something that I lived through and recall so clearly. I suppose this isn’t a unique predicament, but because of the magnitude, one that I still wrestle with. The author of nine, ten glosses over the big picture and in a lot of ways, the events of 9/11, but instead tries to show the paradigm shift that occurred and the division drawn as life before and life after. She attempts to do this on an AR 4.8 and in 197 pages. No easy feat, but one that definitely has some hits, and for me at least, a few misses too.
Told from four different perspectives that intersect at the opening and at the close, the reader meets the characters two days leading up to 9/11, spends some of September 11 with them, and then peeks in on them again a year later. The characters all cross paths at Chicago’s O’Hare Airport.
The first character is Will. A middle school boy struggling to come to terms with how his father died helping someone on the side of the road. Often more responsible and mature for his age as he helps his mom with his younger siblings, he lives in Shanksville, Pennsylvania and finds healing with helping those affected by the plane that goes down there.
Next we meet Aimee, who has just moved to California and is starting a new school. Her daily drama is more missing her mom who travels a lot to New York for business, but is relatable as she tries to make new friends, fit in, and find her place in a new environment. Her mom is in New York during the duration of the book, and has a meeting in one of the Twin Towers on the 11th.
Sergio lives in Brooklyn, New York and is a math wiz who gets a special award and recognition for his achievements. He lives with his loving grandma, but it is the stressful encounter with his deadbeat father that sets him on a fateful subway trip that introduces him to Gideon, a New York fire fighter.
Naheed is the fourth character, and is an Iranian American Muslim girl, who is struggling to handle friends, and new questions about the hijab she wears. Her friend drama consumes her, until 9/11 happens and she has to now prove her love of America at every turn.
The characters each take chapters divided by dates and while short, they do form a connection in their snapshots. You feel like you get to know the characters and you do feel a tinge of stress knowing how they are all related geographical to what will transpire on the 11th. But in the afterward, the author explains why she intentionally keeps the carnage at bay to show how connected we all are, especially children, at the forefront of her fictionally retelling, and to show how much we all were affected that day.
WHY I LIKE IT:
I like that breaking up of the story, it adds some dimension to the book. I know some reviews feel it is over done, but I think it is deliberate, and highlights how we all are inter connected and for late elementary, early middle school readers, I think the choppiness it allows, keeps the book on their level. I like that each character has their own struggles, it isn’t that life was rosy and then 9/11 ruined everything, these kids have their own issues and stresses and realistic personalities before and after. I also like that the Muslim character is not from the Middle East, it further shows how groups get lumped together for different reasons giving the book a bit more for readers to consider.
There are however, some real issues in how they present Naheed, which seems odd, since the book is so politically correct, and given the topic, you’d think the author and editors would work overtime to get the islamic parts correct. But alas at one point Naheed’s visiting Uncle wants to know why Naheed doesn’t pray the mid day prayer, thuhr, at school, to which the mom replies, “she makes up her prayers at third prayer.” What? Yes I laughed out loud, no one calls the prayers by their numbers! I have never used numbers to describe our prayers, they have names, and we use their timings to describe them to others, not numbers. At one point, Naheed is making wudu, ablution, and the author gets it wrong. “And lastly, feet. Right foot with right hand. Left foot with left. Toes to ankles.” Left hand for both feet. I also take some issue with Naheed having to wear hijab at age nine. Hijab becomes required at puberty, so yes it could have been when it became required of her, but it seems a little young for her, and it seemed a bit forced.
In terms of plot, I would have liked a day or two after 9/11 to juxtapose the differences in priorities and the lens of how we got to a year later, or two years later, or 15. Also, how they all went to New York on the anniversary to tie the story together made for a nice ending, but why they all went was a bit of a stretch, ok a big stretch.
For a book about 9/11 there is relatively no violence. The only death is in talking about Will’s father and the only blood is when Sergio helps a man on the subway. There is some hate speech at the end, but even that is minimal. Will does kiss a girl he likes. And both Will and Sergio skip school. Aimee worries if her mom is having an affair (implied) and if her parents are getting divorced, but it isn’t explicit.
TOOLS FOR LEADING THE DISCUSSION:
I think this would be a good book for a younger book club. With its overt commitment to political correctness and breaking down stereotypes, it reinforces how similar we all are through strengthening bonds of humanity, rather than being divided by our skin color, or religion. I think it would also lead so easily into faccilitating discussion of today’s kids putting themselves in the story. What in their lives wouldn’t matter any more or what would matter more. There is a Reading Group Guide at the end of the book, along with an Author’s Note and Acknowledgement, that easily lend themselves to more discussion ideas.
Curriculum Guide: http://www.norabaskin.com/nine-ten-curriculum-guide/