Sunday, April 17, 2016

Towers Falling by Jewell Parker Rhodes

Shot taken at the bowling alley because I couldn't put it down!

Have you found a middle grade novel that appropriately covers 9/11 for their readers?  I didn't think so and you probably won't until this July when Jewell Parker Rhodes's Towers Falling is released, just in time for the 15th anniversary.

I have been a fan of Jewell's since Ninth Ward, where Hurricane Katrina was the backdrop. In her historical fiction book, Sugar, Jewell opened our minds to the world of segregation on the plantation, as well as how Chinese workers were hired to harvest the sugar cane alongside the African Americans. I have yet to read Bayou Magic, Jewell's book that takes place right before the Gulf oil spill, although many of my students did and each one enjoyed it.

We were lucky enough to receive ARCs of Towers Falling from Little Brown, as part of the Faculty Lounge program.  Students have read it under the guidance of Mr. Reischer and the reviews have all been glowing.  Even Mrs. Warland read it and she loved it.  It was time for me to get my hands on it, especially since we have a date to Skype with Jewell this Tuesday!

I love having Saturday morning dates with a book and yesterday's did not disappoint.  This is the story of Deja, who just moved into Avalon Family Residence, the homeless shelter, with her parents and younger brother and sister.  Deja, a lifelong Brooklynite, has never really experienced much outside her world, a world where she really hasn't seen her Dad smile, ever, and he is sick all the time.  There's something wrong with Dad but what is it? She wishes she could understand and make things better.  Wishes it were more concrete.  I love this line (p.107), "If he had a cast, I'd write my name on it."  It's always easier for anyone, young and old, to understand when there is an official diagnosis.

Now in her new school, Brooklyn Collective Elementary, Deja's mind is opened. She becomes friends with Ben, a transplant to Brooklyn from Arizona after his parents' divorce and Sabeen, whose family is from Turkey. They are learning in depth about 9/11. Deja knows nothing and wonders why it's even important to learn.  "It's hard enough figuring out now," she thinks. (p. 34)

Finally, Deja, with the help of her friends and teachers, begins to piece together the puzzle.  Why is Dad sick?  What exactly happened on September 11, 2001?  What is the meaning of home and family and how do we keep them together?  In this story of love, friendship and hope, Jewell manages to answer them all.  Be sure and keep tissues and some Turkish delights handy, for you never know when a nerve might be pinched and a tear or two will drop.  Nothing a triangle of baklava can't fix, though.

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