First 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.