CM . . .
. Volume XI Number 4 . . . . October 15, 2004
The disturbing events of September 11, 2001, are of high interest to adolescents. Terror 9/11 brings one boy's family struggles into focus during this difficult time in recent history. Paton's action-packed story would have seemed like a science-fiction novel five years ago, but this family's tragedy rings true to many other stories that have been covered in the media following the attacks on the Twin Towers in New York City.
On the morning of September 11, Curtis, an antagonistic teenager, is forced to make a trip into New York City to pick up his seven-year-old sister, Allie. Curtis resents having to get her from their dad's office after her weekend visit with their dad, the same visit Curtis refuses to attend. Curtis has never forgiven his father, Patrick, for leaving their family a number of years earlier, although Curtis's mother seems to have accepted the situation. To make things worse, Curtis feels he is often responsible for his little sister because both of his parents are too busy with work.
After a short uncomfortable exchange between Curtis and his father, Allie and Curtis leave their dad's office, which is on the 60th floor of the World Trade Center. While waiting for the elevator, their building is the first of the two towers to be hit by a plane. Curtis, Allie, and Patrick decide to make their way to safety by taking the stairs down to the ground level. For a few harrowing moments, Allie goes missing, but Curtis goes back up a number of floors to find her. Back together as a group, Patrick struggles to remain conscious. He is overweight, and the smoke from the fires above makes breathing difficult. Patrick urges them to go on without him, but Curtis refuses to let him give up. By the time Curtis makes it down to the third floor, he is leading Allie and literally carrying his father to safety. The force of the neighboring tower's falling to the ground buries the family near the bottom of their father's office building. Curtis and Allie are dug out moments before their own building falls, but Patrick cannot be saved. He and the firefighters who are trying to save him are trapped in the basement. Through the chaos of New York City, Curtis and Allie make their way back to their house in the suburbs, to their frantic mother's relief. Patrick's body is never recovered, but Curtis accepts his father's death and his father's wish that he and his sister move past this tragedy.
Paton initially describes Curtis as nervous and uncomfortable in tight spaces, but Curtis overcomes his fears and shows real strength of character through the course of the story. Despite the fact that Curtis has not done well in school, he is levelheaded and shows strong leadership skills. He is also protective of his sister and later his father. Readers will relate to the strained parent/child relationship as both males try to sort out their roles in this separated family. Curtis and Patrick are stubborn, angry, and disappointed that their relationship is not better. By the end of the novel, both father and son have seen a new side to each other, and Curtis grieves his father's passing without feeling guilty or responsible for the circumstances of his death.
Written at a grade 3 reading level but dealing with mature subject matter, Terror 9/11 will interest middle-years reluctant readers. The illustrations, though lacking in detail, help with comprehension, and the large print improves readability. Readers will be intrigued by the title and cover art. Language may be an issue for some students as slang is used throughout the text. Words like "smoker's hack," "squooshing," and "puffer," are examples of vocabulary that may not be familiar to students. Also, at times details may be too vague for struggling readers. The chapters are short, and the straightforward chapter titles help the reader predict upcoming events.
The stories surrounding September 11 are intriguing to students. Due to media coverage, adolescent readers have a significant amount of prior knowledge on the subject. As a result, the story topic is very accessible for struggling readers. The plot is action-packed, and the story line moves quickly. Despite the shortcomings mentioned above, students will be captivated by this book.
Tanus Tosh McNeill is a teacher-librarian at Van Walleghem School in Winnipeg, MB.
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Copyright © the Manitoba Library Association. Reproduction for personal use is permitted only if this copyright notice is maintained. Any other reproduction is prohibited without permission.