Ground Zero: A Novel of 9/11 by Alan Gratz

Published by Scholastic

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Summary:  Brandon has been suspended from school and is spending the day of September 11, 2001 with his dad, who works at the Windows of the World restaurant in the World Trade Center.  When his father isn’t looking, Brandon sneaks out to buy a toy in the mall.  The World Trade Center is hit by a jet while Brandon is in the elevator, and he must find his way down 89 floors to escape–after trying to go back up to rescue his father.  In alternating chapters, readers spend the day of September 11, 2019 with Reshmina, a girl in Afghanistan who rescues an American soldier and pays a price when the Taliban finds out.  The two protagonists’ stories intersect at the end of the book, and each one gains a new perspective from meeting the other.  336 pages; grades 5-8.

Pros:  Alan Gratz has produced another historical fiction novel filled with compelling characters and heart-pounding action.  In his characteristic style, he ends each chapter with a cliff-hanger, then picks up the narrative of the other character.  In his author’s note he mentions that it has taken him 20 years to feel ready to write about 9/11, and I think he was wise to wait.  The takeaway message questioning the ongoing American presence in Afghanistan might have been quite different a decade ago.

Cons:  I found Brandon’s story much more compelling and suspenseful than Reshmina’s, which had to provide a lot of context about Afghanistan that took away from the action.

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