When her fifth grade teacher starts a series of lessons about the two towers once visible from her classroom window, Deja is confused. What does the past have to do with anything? Fifteen years have gone by since the towers stood. As she begins to piece together the details of 9/11, Deja sets out on a journey of self discovery with new friends by her side. But there are many questions ahead of her, like what does is mean to be American and why does her father get angry whenever she mentions the towers?
I had heard good things about Towers Falling and was excited to read it. Having been rather young when 9/11 happened (as I mentioned in my post about The Breadwinner), I was very much interested in the premise of children born after the events learning about it. It has had such a lasting impact on life in North America that it’s hard for me to imagine people not knowing about it.
The book is well written and tackles the subject matter well. Jewell Parker Rhodes does a good job of sharing information while remaining sensitive. I was particularly happy with Deja and her friends, Ben and Sabeen. They form a friendship despite being from different backgrounds and walks of life. I think it is important to include different perspectives when looking at recent history. The inclusion of Sabeen, a Muslim girl, was especially important as so many were and are quick to blame Muslim people for terrorism.
The relationship between Deja and her father is quite complicated and helps frame Deja’s understanding of 9/11. Deja’s understanding of her father’s illness is at times heartbreaking. He can’t be there for her family, so she feels anger towards him. This just goes to show the ripple effect of traumatic events. As I read their scenes together, it struck me that this is one of few books I’ve read in which a male figure of relative authority (a father) was portrayed as vulnerable. I’m glad the author chose to tackle the mental health angle and to show that men can and do suffer with mental health issues.
As a Canadian, some of the themes didn’t quite ring true for me. Much of the book resolves around communities and social units, with America being one of the major ones. Perhaps I’m a bit of a cynic, but I’m just not entirely sold on the idea of the American Dream and whatnot. The book is for children, so I suppose it’s alright, and maybe even beneficial to be a bit idealistic (positivity in the face of tragedy is valuable), but America isn’t perfect (nor is Canada). There’s still a lot of work to be done when it comes to ensuring equality and freedom for all, but I suppose including that would be beyond the scope of this particular novel.
Final verdict: Towers Falling is a sensitive look at the tragic events of 9/11 through the eyes of those who weren’t around to witness them. It will act as a good introduction for children seeking to understand what the towers and their destruction meant and will hopefully open readers up for further discussion.