Friday, August 30, 2019

Hope and Other Punch Lines, by Julie Buxbaum

Perhaps one of the most iconic photographs from 9/11 is the one of “Baby Hope.” You know the one with the one year-old baby girl in a princess dress being rushed away from the Towers after the first plane hit.  But sixteen years later, Abbi wishes everyone would just forget about it.  She’s endured endless moments of recognition from strangers, who want to hug her and tell her how much that picture meant to them (as if she had actually done anything!).  All she wants is to enjoy a quiet summer, when - just for once - she can just be herself and not some icon of a horrific event.

But two things lurk over her to prevent this.  The first is a persistent and worsening cough, which may be a legacy of toxins she was exposed to when the Towers collapsed.  The other problem is a persistent boy named Noah.  Noah has an obsession: he wants Abbi to help him track down the other people in that famous picture.  To Abbi, this is the type of painful and tiresome task she is trying to avoid, but Noah has good reasons and they are ultimately devastating

I really enjoyed this original take on 9/11, a topic which is fairly remote to today’s young readers.  By looking at it in the contemporary moment, seeing the long-term effects of the event through today's young people is genius stroke, giving the idea relevance and immediacy.  Buxbaum is an excellent writer and has managed to fit in a lot of true stories amidst her admittedly simple story. Pretty much all of the specifics of the novel (including the “Baby Hope” photo) are made up, but they are all based on real events, people, and facts.  It’s this sort of painless education which always impresses me.  Unique and recommended.

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