Top Ten Eye-Opening Books

Hey everyone!  So lately I’ve been trying to read books that somehow make me think differently about the world.  It started by accident but now I’m kind of on a roll.  And there have been a lot of books over the years that have made me realize things about the world that I didn’t know existed before.  So I thought I’d share some of those books.

Many of these do not exactly have happy endings.  I don’t think they’re meant to.  They’re meant to show the realities of the world in a sometimes very harsh light.  Some of these can be difficult to read.  But all the same, I think it’s important that we know they exist.

So here we go!

Top Ten Eye-Opening Books

1. Stolen: A Letter to My Captor by Lucy Christopher

This was immediately the first book I thought of when I came up with this list.  When Gemma is kidnapped, her life turns upside down.  Ty, her kidnapper, is hot and fit and only wants Gemma’s love.  (Which, you know, completely makes up for the fact that he’s kidnapped her and taken her to the Outback of Australia.  NOT.)  Gemma is put in a very uncomfortable situation and watching her process it…you can’t help but be moved by her struggle.

2. Endangered by Eliot Schrefer

It’s not very often I read books set in Africa–maybe because there aren’t as many as there are about other cultures?  I don’t know.  Sophie follows her mother to the Congo to help her work at a sanctuary for bonobos, but everything turns deadly the moment a violent coup tries to take over the government.  Suddenly Sophie and her beloved bonobos are in danger, running for their lives through the jungles of the Congo and hiding from men who would kill both of them.  It’s dangerous and real and definitely eye-opening about what has been happening in places like the Congo where the government is (was?) unsettled.

3. Written in the Stars by Aisha Saeed

This is a very hard to story to read.  For as much as I loved it, I will probably never read it again.  Naila’s Pakistani family is very strict.  When she falls for a boy before she’s allowed to start dating, her parents freak.  They take her to Pakistan to reclaim her roots, but it’s there that Naila finds out her marriage has been arranged to a man she doesn’t know or care for.  It’s a nightmare situation, but it’s a nightmare that some girls in the world are still facing.  And it’s hard to know that this isn’t exactly fictional.  (The author acknowledges that she pieced the story together from experiences of people she knows.)

4. Between Shades of Gray by Ruta Sepetys

I love this book so much.  Lina is a Lithuanian girl living in the dangerous time of 1941.  Stolen from home with her family by Soviet soldiers, they are sent on a journey of thousands of miles to the Siberian tundra to work in gulags for a crime Lina doesn’t even know of.  It’s a flip on the typical Holocaust story because, let’s be real, the Holocaust was not the first or the only event of its kind in history.  And it’s important to acknowledge the others who also suffered similar fates.

5. Prisoner of Night and Fog by Anne Blankman

I knew I wanted to put a Holocaust book on this list, and I thought this one was unconventional enough to fit the bill.  The heroine is a perfect German girl named Gretchen, whose “uncle” Dolf is none other than Adolf Hitler.  We’ve been taught forever that Hitler is a monster–but here’s a girl growing up within the Nazi Party and loves Hitler as family.  It’s hard for us to read that, because it’s true that for many, Hitler was not the Demon we see him as now.  He was fantastic with children, for example.  It’s uncomfortable for us to acknowledge that.  And Gretchen’s not blind–we do get to see what happens as Germany changes around her and not in good ways.  I’m in no way trying to diminish the atrocities of the Holocaust–but I think sometimes we also need to see why so many Germans bought into (or pretended to buy into) what Hitler was preaching.

6. The Watch That Ends the Night by Allan Wolf

This is nothing short of beautiful.  It’s a lyrical novel written from the perspective of various people–real and fictional–aboard the tragic Titanic.  Each poem has its own style, depending on the narrator.  It’s amazing how he pulls that off.  But since it covers various classes from first to crew, and it covers many races, you get to see what happened from all different sides.  Just when you thought you knew everything about the sinking…

7. Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi

I put a graphic novel on the list!  Look at me go with all these different types of stories!  Ok, so this is autobiographical.  It’s Marjane’s story as she grew up in Tehran during the Islamic Revolution.  It chronicles her youth there, her time in high school in Vienna growing up as something of a wild child, and her self-imposed exile from her homeland.  It can be funny to read at times, but it’s also very real about struggles she went through.  Revolutions aren’t exactly painless, no matter which side you’re on.

8. Sold by Patricia McCormick

Even though I didn’t exactly like this when I read it, I can’t deny that it’s important.  Lakshmi lives in Nepal with her incredibly poor family.  When rain washes out the crops that year, Lakshmi is sent away by her father, only to find out that she’s been sold into prostitution.  It’s a brutal and horrific story, but it’s also something that girls around the world are dealing with every day.  So as horrible as it is for us to read it, it’s even worse knowing that it’s not completely fiction.

9. Between the Notes by Sharon Huss Roat

I chose this one because I think it’s an important look at social class and stereotypes.  When Ivy’s family loses everything, she’s forced to move to the poor side of town, even though she doesn’t want anyone at school to know that.  And she’s forced to confront what she’s always thought about “those people”.  It’s fascinating and you really do have to think as you read it: have I ever acted like Ivy?

10. Before I Fall by Lauren Oliver

This is such an important book because it shows you the consequences of your choices and how they impact everyone around you.  I remember reading this in the car on vacation and trying so hard not to cry.  It’s emotional and poignant and moving.  It’s such a valuable read.

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The Valiant (The Valiant, #1)

Image result for the valiantFirst Lines: The steam rising off the backs of the cantering horses faded into the morning fog.  Our chariot raced toward the far end of the Forgotten Vale, and Maelgwyn Ironhand–my charioteer, constant companion, and frequent adversary–pulled back on the reins.

Back in high school, I was reading Lesley Livingston’s Wondrous Strange series, about faeries and Shakespeare and a bunch of other cool stuff.  At the library one day, I saw this on the shelf and I thought it looked interesting.

When Fallon was a child, Julius Caesar invaded her homeland of Prydain and captured her father–a king of the Celts.  To get him back, Fallon’s older sister Sorcha fought Caesar’s legions–and died.  Fallon has been living in Sorcha’s shadow ever since and now, on Fallon’s 17th birthday, she can finally be a warrior like Sorcha.  But she never gets the chance.  Captured and sold to an elite Roman school training female gladiators, Fallon discovers she’s owned by her worst enemy: Caesar himself.  In a cruel twist of fate, Caesar may just be the only hope Fallon has of survival.  With enemies all around her, and not just in the arena, Fallon will always be fighting to protect herself.  And her most dangerous adversary may just be Cai, the young Roman soldier intent on stealing her heart.

This was a very interesting concept. I’ve read Lesley Livingston before and, as she admits in her own acknowledgements, this is the first time she’s written something that didn’t involve characters using magic. And I liked the result.

This covers an interesting moment in history that I don’t see many other books write about. It’s set during the reign of Julius Caesar in Rome, but it takes place not just in Rome but in Prydain or Britain as well, with the different bands of Celts that lived there. With my fast growing interest in the Celts and Anglo-Saxons who lived in England before the Norman Invasion, this was something I had to check out. And it did not disappoint.

The story focuses on the idea of having female gladiators known as gladiatrix. At the time of the story, it’s been a role that has been growing only for the last ten years or so, so there still aren’t many gladiatrix. It’s kind of interesting to see how it might have been different for a female warrior than a man, and the story makes sure to point some of that out.

The plot was fascinating and gripping once you knew what was going on. (It takes some time to set everything up, especially since we’re no longer familiar with the day-to-day of the Celtic or the Roman cultures.) When warriors of any kind are involved, there’s always danger and tempers on edge. I had a hard time predicting what might happen next because, like Fallon, I didn’t know what was normal in Rome and neither of us knew who was friend and who was foe.

I found myself really enjoying the characters in this. Fallon is strong and determined, but that determination also makes her blind to the politics of what’s happening around her. That’s where Cai comes in, as he wants to protect her as much as he can, even knowing she can fight her own battles. They have an interesting chemistry together because they push each other. I like that. It was even interesting to see people like Caesar himself and Cleopatra make appearances in this book. They were given personalities I have never really heard either of them having, but it makes sense. (Example: Caesar is nice and Cleopatra is clever but compassionate.)

I keep using the word over and over, but it really was interesting! There were so many little pieces of this story that I kept seeing that got my interest. While I’ve never been a fan of Romans (I much prefer the Greeks), I now kind of want to read up a little on their culture.

Announcing…#HogwartsOctober, A Harry Potter Read-a-Thon

#HogwartsOctober

OMG YOU GUYS I’M SO EXCITED!

Welcome to #HogwartsOctober!

You may be asking yourself, “What is Hogwarts October?  And why is she insisting on putting a hashtag in front of it?”

Well, let me tell you ALL ABOUT IT!

Harry Potter changed the world in a way that virtually no other book short of religious texts has.  It’s been 20 years since the books were published in America and look where we still are.  The Cursed Child is sweeping its way around the world.  Fantastic Beasts is turning into a huge series in its own right.

Whether you grew up with Harry Potter or found his magic later in life, the fact remains that this series was revolutionary in so many ways.  It brought about the rise of midnight premieres were people dressed up (and their costumes were AMAZING!).  There were book release parties of a magnitude I’ve never seen before or since.  Everyone, young and old, bought into it.

That’s not to mention the numerous parodies, fanfictions, and other art forms that have become just as much a part of the fandom as the stories themselves.  Potter Puppet Pals, A Very Potter Musical, all the bands that took their names from the Harry Potter world (and there are MANY).  Tattoos, paintings, wall art, and decorations.  I mean, it’s still literally everywhere.

On September 1st, which was officially Back to Hogwarts Day, I felt some of that magic again for the first time in years.  I saw how many people showed up at King’s Cross Station before 11 AM.  I saw countless pictures of people who dressed up their babies/toddlers in Hogwarts gear.  I watched Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix again for the first time in years and I still remembered the words.

So here’s what #HogwartsOctober is…

Throughout the month of October, I am going to be rereading all 7 of the Harry Potter books, from beginning to end.  Hopefully every day/nearly every day of October, I will also be posting other things about the Harry Potter world.  Movie reviews, book reviews, thoughts on certain characters, comments on my favorite scenes, etc.  Whatever I come up with, I’m probably going to post about it.

In essence, it’s a month where we can relive the magic again.  We can go back to Hogwarts and experience it all anew.  (Well, sort of anew.  I’m really interested in reading these again with my current understanding of global politics.)

All of it will culminate on Halloween, October 31st, the night that Voldemort attacked James and Lily Potter.  I’m hoping to do some kind of tribute to Harry on that day, but I’m not entirely sure what that looks like yet.

Would you like to participate?

If so, that’s great!  Here are some things you can do:

  • Complete the read-a-thon with me if you have time!  Nothing like reading them all again from start to finish!
  • Write your own posts about the impact of Harry Potter in your life!
  • Tag me in anything you do so I can throw your name/blog on my posts among the list of participants
  • Use the #HogwartsOctober hashtag on Twitter so others can find this and join too!

I have an entire page on this site devoted to all things #HogwartsOctober.  You can find the schedule of events and other information listed here.  You can do as little or as much as you’d like to!  I completely understand if you don’t have the time to do it all, but anything is awesome!

I’m going ALL OUT on this in a way I never have before.  I really want this to build a community of Potter fans, to show that even though we may blog about different things (YA books, travel, advice, etc.), we all are more similar than we are different.

If you’d like to be involved, please leave a comment below!  I think this is going to be so much fun!

Black Keys (Colorblind, #1)

Image result for black keys rose b mashalFirst Lines: Oh, God!  I’d never let that pig touch me!  I shot up into a standing position like the couch was on fire and looked around, finally really taking the room in.  The sheets on the bed were white with red rosebuds all over them, shaped like a giant heart.

Ok, I recently read this and had to share it with you guys, but I do have a disclaimer first: this is not YA.  It’s officially billed as Romance, but I’m telling you, it’s not explicit like, at all.  And because of that, I wanted to let you guys know about this, especially since it’s FREE on Amazon!

As a bright, young CEO of her parents’ company, Marie feels like her life is in her control.  Her life has had its rough moments, but her Catholic faith and her own strength have persevered.  When her brother Joseph returns from their Middle Eastern branch, he comes bringing news that he’s going to be married.  But when Joseph betrays her, Marie learns suddenly that he’s brokered her own marriage–to a Muslim Arab prince named Mazen.  Heartbroken, lost, and afraid, Marie struggles to deal with what Joseph has just thrown her way.  Her new husband feels equally betrayed, but all he wants is for Marie to understand and learn that he’s not the monster she believes him to be.

I feel like I’m underselling this in the blurb, but I promise you, it’s so good.

Holy Schmoly Batman, I could not put this down. Yes, there are moments that are cliche or there’s the fact that the timeline can sometimes be hard to follow, but it was still amazing.

I was completely drawn in by the culture of the story. Marie is a twenty-two year old American who runs her family company with her brother after the death of their parents.  Obviously, I’m well-versed in her culture.  Then you have Mazen, the Muslim Arab prince and his culture.  I was not as familiar with that.

It was dramatic. It was scary. It was sweet and tender. Like, most everything I could want from a book was in this. (I’ll also fess up right now and say that one of my favorite tropes is arranged marriages, for some reason. I like seeing what happens when two unlikely people end up being pushed together. So I was really into this.)

Like I was saying, I got swept up into everything to do with the culture. Mazen’s Muslim background is a complete no-no for Marie. She doesn’t understand it at all and, even though she is clearly prejudiced again them, thinks of herself as nowhere near racist. It was a really interesting study in how people can deny everything they see if it messes with the world view they’ve held so close.

On top of that, I vastly enjoyed learning more about the Muslim religion and culture. There were some things I knew, but many that I did not. I was learning right along with Marie and I’m happy that I had that opportunity.

While this is billed as a romance novel, it’s not what you’re probably picturing at all. I don’t want to say too much, but let’s just say that both Marie and Mazen can be quite stubborn when things don’t go their way.

Also, these characters are fantastic. I mean, the character development is ace. Marie obviously changes a lot throughout the story as she learns that what she’s been taught is wrong, but it was also amazing to see the way Mazen’s character was revealed in bits and pieces. I was constantly wanting more. But there are all kinds of other characters. The characters you love immediately, the characters you hate immediately, the characters that surprise you, and the characters that betray your first feelings. They all took it to new levels.

I will say that the writing style…something about it seemed a little distant.  Normally when I read stories I get swept up in, I feel everything.  I mean, I blush and giggle and cry along with the characters.  I didn’t do that with this one.  I felt like I wasn’t Marie.  Which makes the fact that I loved this so much more bizarre.

This is just so different from everything else I’ve read. I loved it.

Anxiety: What Others Don’t Understand

I’ve written before a couple of times about my anxiety.  (You can find one here.)  I know there’s still a lot of misunderstanding out there about what anxiety entails and what it looks like.

As a quick recap, I’ll let you in on my story.  I’ve always been a worry-wart and a perfectionist.  Last December, I started having a breathing issue that felt like a weight pushing on my chest and up into my throat.  It finally got so bad that I had to go to the ER, where they told me I was having a panic attack.  (I was no convinced this was 100% the cause, seeing as I was on a new medication as well at the time.)  In March, it flared again, causing me to feel light-headed and dizzy.  I had to leave work.

And now, it’s back.  So far, there’s a faint pressure on my chest that eases up when I do physical activity but comes back worse the moment it stops.  (I almost threw up last night after 15 minutes on an elliptical.  That was a new experience.)  Under my eyes, like where my sinuses are, feel swollen most of the time.  (I thought at first all of this had to do with allergies.  I now feel more convinced that it does not.)  And more.

What People Don’t Understand About Anxiety #1: It’s not just sweaty palms and a racing heart.

Look, I’ll be the first to admit that I’ve never (besides that ER visit) been diagnosed with any kind of anxiety.  I think that’s partially because I’m in denial and I somewhat refuse to see the doctors who could diagnose it.  For as normal as anxiety is nowadays, there is still a stigma around it.

In each of the aforementioned attacks, I haven’t been able to identify any triggers like, “Yup, that’s what did it.”  It’s not that I don’t have triggers, to an extent.  I do.  Hospitals.  (That ER trip was a delight, I assure you.)  Bad news people have trouble telling.  Telephone calls.

What People Don’t Understand About Anxiety #2: Triggers can be almost anything.

Since I know that apparently I’m prone to whatever kind of attack this is, my friends have been trying to recommend to me different things to keep track of.  I was convinced to wear an Apple Watch to keep track of my heart rate to see if it increases when I feel at my worst.  One of my coworkers is dead-set on getting me to journal everything.

There’s so much I’ve tried to lighten it up.  I’ve tried eating healthier foods.  I’ve tried working out to release those endorphins.  I’ve tried meditation.  I’ve tried simply sitting and reading, losing myself in a good book.  I’ve tried singing, which is my normal stress reliever.

Nothing is quite shaking it.  (For those of you who are concerned, yes, I have a doctor’s appointment scheduled for this week.)

What People Don’t Understand About Anxiety #3: There isn’t a “one cure fixes all” out there.  Everyone needs to find their own coping mechanism.

The point of all of this is to say that if you don’t have anxiety, a lot of this seems weird.  It seems like maybe we’re worried about something stupid and we just need to grin and bear it.  It may seem like we’re faking it.  (I had jury duty this summer and I legitimately had this thought when one juror wanted out because of her anxiety, even though I ended up using the same excuse for a different reason.)

We’re not faking it.  And it’s not as easy to control as you may think.

The first thing I usually see to try are breathing exercises.  They don’t work for me.  I’ve done it all, from 4-3-7 breathing to simply counting your breaths.  You know what it does?  It stresses me out more because I’m focusing on it and it makes everything worse.  Not to mention when I told the ER doctor that I’d been trying to slow down my breathing, he mentioned that doing too many deep breaths can also cause that feeling of hyperventilating.  So…yeah, that’s now ruined for me as well.

What People Don’t Understand About Anxiety #4: Anxiety breeds anxiety, just like misery loves company.

And without knowing what triggered this for sure, I can’t even stay away from it, much less make the current feelings go away.

But I think I’ve boiled it down to two things: 1) September 11th and 2) Life

For whatever reason, this September, I’ve been thinking about 9/11 more than I usually do when this month rolls around.  And I think I overdid it.  I think I got myself worked up too much.  Remembering it all…it was too much for me.  And part of me feels horrible that I wasn’t even there, I didn’t have a significant stake in it, and yet I’m falling to pieces 17 years later.  This has never happened before.

The other reason has to do with life and, to some extent, my personality.  I’m 27 and I totally thought my life would be completely different than it is right now.  House hunting is going miserably.  I’m a total single-Pringle.  I don’t have a “squad” to hang out with because all of my friends are married and most with kids.

When one of my much older and married-with-a-kid friends asked me about how house hunting was going on Friday, I started to realize that life hadn’t taken me where I had necessarily wanted to go.  And when people were asking what I was doing over the weekend, my “nothing” sounded pathetic rather than re-energizing.

This is where my personality comes in.  I’m a people-pleaser.  My personality type (INFJ) is an emotional sponge.  I literally soak up whatever emotion is being felt around me.  If I’m around someone having a crappy day, then I start to have a crappy day.  It’s a legit thing.

Funny enough, I’m totally the kind of person who loves being the center of attention sometimes.  I love being on stage, I don’t mind giving speeches, and I’ve been interviewed on TV at least once already in my life.  None of that fazed me.  But house hunting?

What People Don’t Understand About Anxiety #5: It can bring down anyone.

I was a mess all Friday and tried hard to hide it.  Over the weekend, I threw myself into trying to improve my house hunting.  I tried to come up with a plan of something to do over the weekend to get myself out of the house.

Both of them failed.  (The second one was because the weather was bad.)  It’s not that I didn’t have a delightful weekend at home–it was that it wasn’t what was expected of me.  And you have no idea how much I wish I could change my thinking when it comes to this, but no matter how much I try, so far I haven’t had much luck there.

I’m in a weird place where I now want to do things that I’ve never wanted to do before.  Like I really want to get a Harry Potter tattoo.  I really want to dye my hair–some moments, I want it to be a non-natural color like purple.  Both of these things would give my mother a heart attack.

It’s just a weird life moment for me right now, especially since there is so much going on in my family right now as well to add to the drama.  And perhaps that in itself is what’s creating the anxiety.

Remembering 9/11

I know I’ve posted about this before, but it’s that time of year where I’m back to thinking about what was easily one of the most pivotal moments of my childhood.  (I mentioned this briefly in yesterday’s book review, a book about 9/11.)

Image result for 9/11

Let me just say that I’m a small town girl from the Midwest.  I have never been to New York.  Before they were destroyed, I didn’t even know what the Twin Towers were or that they were even the same thing as the World Trade Centers.  But I still kind of knew what they were from movies.

But that doesn’t mean it didn’t have an incredible effect upon my life.  Upon all of our lives.  (Some of you are too young to realize it, though.  I almost envy you.)

It’s been 17 years.  What’s made me even more…nostalgic is not the right word but it’s kind of the right sentiment…is the fact that 9/11 was a Tuesday as well.  Just a normal, mild Tuesday like any other in September.  It’s almost hard to fathom, but something like this could happen again, just as unexpectedly.

There are just a few things I want to say.  I was 10 when this all happened (#FourthGrade) and I can tell you if you’re too young to remember it all, there’s a very distinct Before and After because of 9/11.  Life happened a certain way before all of this.  I know this makes me sound like your grandma to say this, but it’s true.

I used to teach a novel that takes place in the years following 9/11 in New York City.  Every year, I had to teach the kids again about what happened on that day because they weren’t even born yet.  It’s hard for them to fathom.  So I try to tell them what it was like for me as a kid, as someone who didn’t understand that Bad People exist and Terrible Things can happen.

I remember something being off on 9/11 for one simple reason: my elementary school locked their doors.  No, my teacher didn’t tell us anything had happened.  No, we didn’t watch it on TV (my 3rd grade brother did though).  No, we certainly didn’t get sent home early.

It was a mostly normal day.  We even had recess like normal.  It was when we came in from recess that was different.  I noticed standing in front of the door with my class and seeing a bright pink sign on the door saying that all visitors needed to check in at the office.  That was weird.  This policy that is now standard in every single school was once, in my lifetime, an oddity.  It used to be that parents who came in to help in the classroom simply walked in and went to the class.  Now they had to get a badge and the office had to know they were there.

I remember coming home from school that day, excited to tell my mom about my day like I did virtually every day.  But as my brother and I walked into the family room, I saw both of my parents glued to the TV.  My mom was sitting on the couch not exactly crying, but definitely upset.  My dad was standing, watching what was happening as the news replayed scene after scene of the planes hitting the towers, of rescues in progress, of the many attempts by everyone to figure out what had just happened.

The entire country was in shock.  No one understood.  As a matter of history, America is very rarely ever attacked by foreign entities.  Wars are not often fought on American soil.  The late previous attack of any magnitude was Pearl Harbor, and we all know how that ended.  But that was in 1941.  Sixty years between meant 2-3 generations of Americans who grew up feeling invincible on American land.

If you didn’t live through it, you can’t understand how drastic the changes were.  It wasn’t overnight, but it happened.  When my mom went on trips, I used to be able to walk with her almost all the way to the plane after just going through like, one stand-up metal detector, if that.  I remember in the years after watching the news and seeing all of these rules for planes coming in.  Suddenly, you couldn’t wear shoes through security.  (That was thanks to the Shoe Bomber, which was a real thing.)  You couldn’t carry liquids on the plane that weren’t in tiny bottles.  And so much more.  But the outrage of each and every one of these rules was very real and we pushed back against them.  It was just that safety won out over convenience.

Just thank God they didn’t ban underwear after the Underwear Bomber.  Again, that was a real thing.  You can Google it.

I can’t even describe to you how much the world has changed.  9/11 was utterly horrific.  And don’t think that we were only watching this for a day or two.  Coverage of this event when on for months.  Every day was something new.

We saw streets lined with MISSING posters with faces of people who would never be found, of grief-stricken loved ones desperate for word.

We watched people flee New York on foot, sometimes in shoes and sometimes barefoot.  (Many women wearing heels walked out of NYC with their heels in their hands.  Some never went back.  They just left and refused to set foot in the city again.)

We watched replay after replay of the towers falling, of some people who decided that jumping to their deaths was a better fate than waiting for the towers to fall.

We saw firefighters and first responders spend nonstop days searching for survivors in the rubble.  (I wrote in my diary at the time that the fires were still burning at the site for almost a month after.)

We watched as Washington D.C. mourned those lost in the Pentagon, especially the children who ended up caught in it all.  (I have since been to that memorial and it is heartbreaking.)

We watched as information was pieced together about what happened to a plane that went down in a field in Pennsylvania.

We heard the final calls that some of them made to their loved ones, knowing that their plane had been hijacked and they had to do something about it before more people got hurt.

We watched a president who struggled to put into words what we all were feeling–the hurt, the grief, the betrayal, the confusion, the fear, the shock, the need for revenge.

We watched a country come together.

We saw people from every walk of life–old, young, black, white, Christian, Muslim, and everything in between–band together to do what they could.  They donated things, volunteered their time, offered support.  We all wanted to do what we could.

I know everyone says “Never Forget.”  Personally, I never will.  As a country, I can’t say whether that will be the truth.  President Franklin D. Roosevelt called December 7, 1941 “a date which will live in infamy” and yet nearly 80 years later there are a number of people who don’t know what happened or how it impacted us as a nation.

The atrocities remain, but the harsher moments, the human faces that go along with it all, fade.  Having taught Pearl Harbor as well, I can attest that reading eyewitness accounts hold far more disturbing moments than movies and documentaries can properly convey.  Unless you lived it, I don’t think you can understand.

But for our generation, 9/11 was a defining moment.  We were forever changed because of it.  We have a harder time trusting our neighbors now.  We keep trying to make ourselves safer and safer, almost to the point of insanity.  We’re terrified that something like this could happen again.

When I watch old movies, they ask questions like, “Where were you when Kennedy was shot?”  That was a defining moment for that generation.

But I grew up being asked, “Where were you on 9/11?”  (In fact, Alan Jackson wrote a song called “Where Were You (When the World Stopped Turning)” that was constantly played on the radio soon after.)  And the fact that I have crystal clear images in my head of what I was doing that day will forever haunt me.

I apologize if the organization of this post is a little clumsier than normal.  Normally I can put my thoughts in order a little better than this.  But there’s still so much about this one day, this one event, that I still don’t understand and so many emotions associated with it that I’m all over the place.  If you remember–I think you may understand.

Towers Falling

Image result for towers fallingFirst Lines: Pop groans.  He’s having bad dreams again.  I hear Ma trying to comfort him.

So I’ll start by saying this is a younger story than I usually read.  The main character is a 5th grader.  But I got this from Scholastic a while ago as part of some bundle and I had to try it, especially with 9/11 around the corner.

When her 5th grade teacher starts hinting about things that happened in New York years ago, things involving two towers that are no longer there, Deja is confused.  She’s never heard of it before, and something that major, shouldn’t she have?  On a journey of discovery with her two best friends Ben and Sabeen, Deja is going to discover what it means to be American, how communities can grow and heal, and how history can still touch us.  Worse, she might find out why her father gets upset every time she mentions the towers…

It’s been 17 years since the world as I knew it changed. I was only 10, the same age as the characters in this story. In many ways, their reactions were very similar to mine at the time, especially Deja’s. Like me, it was very difficult for her to fathom the extent of the damage and what it meant. Like me, it seemed impossible that people would willingly want to kill so many people to make a point. Like me, she didn’t understand what a “terrorist” was.

In that way, this really resonated with me.  I understood Deja a lot more than I thought I would.  (I almost stopped reading this because she was so young, then I related to her.)

It really struck home in a lot of ways. While I don’t come from New York and have never been, 9/11 was a massively impactful day for me. And Deja’s only just figuring out how it affected her. As a teacher, I’ve come into contact with this generation that wasn’t even born when it happened, a generation that doesn’t always understand. Following Deja’s journey was also helpful for me in knowing how to frame this for my students.

This is a story of acceptance, of understanding. Deja is friends with a girl of Turkish descent and it’s kind of heartbreaking to see what she struggles with, being in NYC after the attacks. The story never goes too far into the details of 9/11, but it doesn’t leave anything out either. It’s faithful to what happened, but it doesn’t delve into all of the details. It’s perfect for the grade level it’s marketed to, because it’s going to give the basics that could help a parent or a teacher really start talking about these topics.

And Deja’s right. It’s not our differences that matter, but our similarities. 9/11 proved to us that we are all Americans, no matter what we look like or what we believe. If only more people could learn from her example.