Hope and Other Punch Lines

img_20190617_181003img_20190617_182204Here’s an original book that sets its action fifteen years after the 9-11 World Trade Center disaster (making it a timely subject when you consider current congressional slowness in renewing financial support for victims dealing with resulting serious, life-threatening medical problems). The two main characters are survivors (in different senses of the word) who continue to wrestle with the aftermath of the catastrophe as they approach their senior year in high school in Oakdale, New Jersey.

Abbi Hope Goldstein–rescued from the South Tower collapse and made forever famous by a photograph of her being carried to safety–is weary of her celebrity as “Baby Hope.” She takes a summer camp counselor job two towns away from home so that she can experience life as a normal person, sure that no one will recognize her there.

Noah Stern, who as an infant was recovering from major heart surgery at a hospital at the time of the WTC collapse, never knew his father, who died in the disaster. Noah loves stand-up comedy and aspires to create the perfect 9-11 joke as a cathartic tool to handle the overwhelming emotions stirred up by remembrance of the event. His other mission (known only by his best friend Jack) is to find out if his father is one of the people included with Baby Hope in the iconic photograph.

When Noah recognizes Abbi on his first work day at camp, he immediately sets into action a plan to enlist her in his project to interview all the people in the photograph, supposedly for an article for the Oakdale High Free Press. Gradually he wins her participation, and they set off on their interviews. As the project plays out, the two of them find the answers to a family mystery and resolve some seriously bothersome personal issues.

Well-written, this book explores complex issues involving all ages from children to adults who experience terroristic events, showing various ways in which people try to reconcile and live with the repercussions. Characters are realistically and sympathetically portrayed, showing varying measures of growth and self-awareness.  Offensive language consists of the usual YA vocabulary of asshole, shit, and such.  Some few casual references to sex are made. Noah’s friend Jack talks about being gay and all that that entails. Violent descriptions of the WTC collapse are included. Overall, though, this is a worthwhile book for teenagers to read. I’d recommend its inclusion in any secondary school library collection.



Categories: Books We Recommend, Crime, Death and Grieving, Depression, Grief, Historical Fiction, LGBTQIA, Mental Health, Navigating through High School, Offensive Language in YA Literature, Peer Relationships, Political Terrorism, Social Media, Summer Camps, Violence

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