Tag Archives: 9/11

Review: The Day the World Came To Town

911Recap: Seventeen years later, no one needs a book to tell them what happened on 9/11. But they might want to read one if it involves an aspect of that horrific tragedy that few know about, like the thousands of people who wound up stranded in Gander, Newfoundland in the days after the attacks. If you don’t know where Newfoundland is, you wouldn’t be alone. Author and journalist Jim DeFede takes care of that for us, describing the province, its people and the way they took in and treated the passengers who were flying to or over the United States when the attacks happened. As the planes were diverted to Canada, a small town became a town of many more thousands and opened its arms in their time of need.

The panic and chaos that ensued could have been much worse, but the truth it didn’t thanks to the helping hands of those living in Newfoundland. Families there invited these passengers — literal strangers — into their homes for a nice, hot shower. They offered them hand-me-down baby strollers. They showed them to the nearest bars, malls and stores. They cooked for them, clothed them, cared for their animals, ordered their prescriptions. Newfoundland essentially adopted the passengers who were so desperate to get home and so depressed over the recent events.

Analysis: Made famous more recently by the musical Come From AwayThe Day the World Came to Town is a beautiful take on the generosity of strangers, made even more beautiful by the fact that it’s a true story. A journalist at heart, author Jim DeFede does an incredible job of digging into every possible angle and acquiring hundreds of interviews to gather information for the book. The book is not flowery or eloquently written. As only a journalist would, it’s written very matter-of-factly. But it works. The content is so touching, the words don’t need to be.

The stories are woven in such a way, you are bound to connect with at least one of its characters — er, PEOPLE — whether it’s the New York state trooper who wishes he were home to help, the new parents that just adopted their daughter from overseas, the young professionals who rely on drinks and new friendships to get them through the pain or the woman whose firefighter son may or may not have died in the towers.

The Day the World Came to Town is one of those rare books that both taught me something AND made me feel. I truly cannot say enough good things about it.

Get The Day the World Came to Town in paperback for $13.59. 

Or on your Kindle for free.

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Review: A Mother’s Song

Recap: A story about following your heart wherever it may lead, A Mother’s Song by Michael Finaghty is an engrossing read. The book tells the story of Ruby Penfold, an orphan, brilliant pianist, and peace activist from Australia. It follows Ruby’s life — from her mischievous days at the Christian orphanage in the 1960’s to her teenage years with foster parents Captain and Connie O’Grady, and finally to her adult life in Melbourne and London.

At 18-years-old, Ruby meets her first love, Phillip, who is soon ripped from her by the Vietnam War. When this happens, Ruby’s passion against the war grows more intense. It’s a rocky period in her life, as she searches for and locates her mentally-ill biological mother. She later learns that her mother went crazy after she lost both her parents in the Blitzkrieg during WWII.

Despite Ruby’s efforts to remain part of Phillip’s and her mother’s life, she realizes she must move on. She journeys to London with her best friend, Chloe. There she meets her new love, Andrew. She continues her peace efforts by joining local peace groups. Her passion for music and the piano also remain. But after she enters the world of family life with Andrew, 9/11 and the war in Afghanistan follows. Soon, her activist lifestyle takes over.

Analysis: While reading the novel, I kept interpreting the title A Mother’s Song — which mother does it correspond to? Ruby’s biological, sick mother or her foster mother, Connie? And what song? The obvious answer is the opera song that Connie loves and shares with Ruby  (“I too recall how long ago, my heart was joyful and tender; love spread his wings around me”). But Connie is an activist. And Ruby’s biological mother succumbed to illness after war destroyed her childhood. So in essence, Ruby’s song is one of peace — a song passed down to her by both of her mothers.

There is something beautiful about the way three different wars have affected three different generations. The Blitzkrieg’s effect on Ruby’s mother, the Vietnam War’s effect on Ruby, and the Afghanistan War’s effect on Ruby and her younger activist friends. The battle for peace becomes an heirloom that’s passed along from generation to generation.

Interwoven into the story about war and peace is also a story of love — love lost and refound. Ruby comes full circle in way that has both romantic and political impact.

MVP: Ruby Penfold. At a young age, she’s already dealt with a substantial amount of pain and loss. That continues to follow her into her adult life. But her ability to throw herself into her music and her activism helps her cope with everything. She’s a little lost and confused. But she is passionate. And that steers her toward becoming a romantic do-gooder.

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Review: Dear John

Recap: It’s a story we’ve all heard before. Boy meets girl. Boy falls in love with girl. Boy goes off to war. Sadness ensues. But the story of Dear John goes a little further. Not only must the soldier and protagonist, John, return to his duties in Germany and leave behind his new girlfriend, Savannah. He must also say goodbye to his father, who suffers from Asberger’s syndrome.

Dear John is a love story between John, who’s on leave from the military, and Savannah, who’s building homes during her spring break from UNC. The unlikely two fall in love in just a few weeks. But in that time, Savannah — who is studying psychology at school — points out to John that his father may be autistic. Even though that would explain his father’s isolation and awkwardness, the suggestion erupts into a fight that ultimately brings John and Savannah — and John’s father — closer together.

Before they know it, John and Savannah are two halves of a (very) long-distance relationship. After a year, John returns to Savannah, and though things have changed, their feelings for each other have not. John, once again, goes back to the army. But then September 11th happens. And though he promised Savannah he wouldn’t re-sign, he feels obligated to venture off to Afghanistan. And that one decision is the one that would change both of their lives forever.

Analysis: In true Nicholas Sparks fashion, Dear John is a love story that not only deals with the hardships of love and the questions about fate and destiny, but with disease and chronic illness. The story focuses on the effects of autism, pertaining to John’s father. It also deals with physical illness — cancer — from which Savannah’s friend, Tim, suffers. Throw war on top of that, and you’re dealing with a book that has a lot of heavy issues.

The first part of the book focuses on the love story between the two main characters, but the latter portions are much darker. The characters brood, yearn for each other, and generally make the reader depressed. Not to mention, John and his father are rather likable, but I didn’t love Savannah. She was too much of a “goody-goody,” and an annoying one at that. The problem here is that if I don’t love her, it’s hard for me to understand why John does. Therein lies a major flaw.

I still enjoyed the book regardless. There’s really nothing like a romance — no matter how annoying the characters are. And the parts about the war were also done well. Though I wasn’t a fan of the ending, I understood that it was reality. Sometimes our lives don’t go the way we plan, and sometimes it’s our own fault. But that’s the way it is, and that’s what Dear John is really all about.

MVP: John’s dad. As Savannah blatantly points out throughout the novel, John’s father did an excellent job of raising him, despite his autism. As more and more illnesses are discovered, doctors realize that older patients were overlooked in their youth. That seems to be the case here. When John’s father was young and a little “off,” there was no reason to believe anything was actually wrong with him. The idea of this character is a good one, and Sparks does it the right way.

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Review: The Prodigal Hour

Recap: If you were given a time travel machine just moments after your father was killed, what would you do? Go back in time, right? Fix it? Save him? Of course. And that’s exactly what happens to Chance Sowin in The Prodigal Hour. At the beginning of the book, Chance Sowin returns home to his father in New Jersey after 9/11 has startled him and made living in New York uncomfortable. But upon his arrival, his father — a brilliant scientist — is murdered. He quickly learns that one of his father’s inventions has something to do with it. He and his longtime neighbor — and childhood crush — Cassie Lackesis unravel the truth behind his father’s research.

His father had developed a time machine. Despite the consequences, the two go back in time to save Chance’s dad. When they do so, his father tells them about the dangers and beauty of time travel. And off they go — back to the time of Jesus and Hitler. With hopes to watch history happen, they instead become involved, and it changes everything.

But The Prodigal Hour uses dual narration. Besides Chance, we also learn about Leonard Kensington, another scientist and time traveler. But as we read the chapters he narrates, we realize he has a distorted sense of reality…or rather it’s different from our reality. It leaves us to wonder how Leonard is related to Chance and Cassie and when and where they will meet.

Analysis: Many novels nowadays tend to use 9/11 as a way to entice readers. It’s a depressing, relatively recent event to which we can all relate, remember, and grieve over. Often times, I feel 9/11 is abused in books and movies. While September 11th is the starting point of The Prodigal Hour, it’s not the focus of the story, and I like that.

And while I’m a big fan of the time travel concept, I must admit the beginning dragged a bit for my taste and was confusing when explaining the science behind the time travel. The Leonard Kensington narration intrigued me, but also left me confused about where he fit into the story.

That being said, the second half of the book was amazing. I had been lost as to why Chance and Cassie travel back to the time of Jesus and Hitler — and not happier moments in history — but I later realized it didn’t matter in the overall scheme of the story. And as the time travel concept came full circle and brought Cassie, Chance, and Leonard within minutes and cities of each other, I couldn’t put the book down. The last half was a whirlwind of crazy time, space continuum, in which I got caught up not only with when and where, but who, what, and why.

MVP: Chance Sowin. His character shows a lot of range, depth, and growth throughout the book. Initially, I am annoyed with him and his stubborn need to travel through time and change history. But he grows up and learns that who is more important than when.

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Review: Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close

Recap: In this post 9/11 saga, Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close tells the story of 9-year-old Oskar Schell, who sets out on a journey to connect with his father, who died in the September 11th terrorist attacks. The two had a special bond; Oskar’s father used to give Oskar puzzles and tasks to figure out.

So when Oskar discovers a blue vase in his father’s bedroom with an envelope and key inside, he assumes this is one last puzzle his father left for him to piece together. Oskar is on a mission to discover what the key opens. The envelope says “BLACK,” so he starts visiting all the people in New York City whose last names are “Black.”Along the way he makes friends and keeps searching for something that will connect him to his dead father.

Oskar narrates these sections by including letters and photos. Additional narrators include Oskar’s grandparents. They tell the story of how they met, their marriage, their breakup, and so forth through letters.

Analysis: This story is a coming-of-age story told through a very manufactured setting. The 9/11 ties add elements of grieving and loss that make Oskar’s adolescent development all the more complicated. But his quest to find that last connection to his father is empowering and poetic. And the people he meets and relationships he forms along the way also add to the piece.

That’s not to say the book didn’t have its issues. The alternating narrations were an interesting idea, but they weren’t absolutely necessary. The faulty relationship between the two grandparents makes them unlikeable, and I found myself wanting to skip ahead to the portions about Oskar and his search for the lock. The search for the lock is what keeps the story moving. I was as curious as Oskar is about finding what the key opens. And though finding it is highly unrealistic, I felt the same hope he does about uncovering the gift his father left him.

But the end left me disappointed. And while the purpose of every story is to show growth in the main character, I don’t know if I feel as though Oskar has grown very much by the end of the book. And for me, that was another disappointment.

Overall, I would still recommend it. The book is an interesting mix of photos, letters, and narration. For me, the writing of the book was better than the actual content. Plus, it’s coming to theaters soon, starring Tom Hanks (as Oskar’s father) and Sandra Bullock (as his mother). See the trailer below.

MVP: Mr. Black. After Oskar meets him on his “Black”-seeking adventure, Mr. Black decides to join him on his visits around New York City. Oskar is so lonely, so for him to have a companion who watches over him in a fatherly way is beautiful to read about.

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