Title: Ground Zero
Author: Alan Gratz
Publisher: Scholastic, 2021
ISBN # 978-1-338-24575-2
This is just so much more than a book about the events that took place on September 11, 2001 in Manhattan, so don’t judge this book by it’s cover. Told in alternating first person, Brandon is a 4th grader living in Brooklyn who heads to the North Tower of the World Trade Center with his father on that fateful morning and Reshmina is a 4th grader living in the mountains of Afghanistan in 2019. In typical Alan Gratz style, the characters do connect, in perhaps a bit more predictable way than in my favorite Gratz novel, Refugee.
I’ll admit, this is the first historical fiction book I’ve read of which the event took place when I was an adult. (I was a first year teacher, with a class of 32 confused 4th graders who were looking at their very confused 22-year old teacher for answers.) In Gratz’s extensive Author’s Note, he shared he was an 8th grade teacher on 9/11 and he was just recently able to process the event well enough to be able to write about it. I think this is an important aspect to share with kids. It might be challenging for parents and teachers to read this book with kids because of the memories associated with that September day.
Perhaps the most important lesson from this book isn’t the in-depth history lesson on 9/11 it provides for elementary and middle grade readers, but the soul-searching and heart-wrenching day spent with Reshmina.As she processes the end of childhood with her twin brother (Alan Gratz, I see what you did there…twin towers in NYC, twin kids in Afghanistan) and provides an American soldier with an inside look into her world, the reader is left questioning America’s role in Afghanistan (or any country, for that matter). I have watched many fourth grade kids over the year come to terms with America’s past decisions. Reshmina’s character is perhaps one of the most important kids can encounter because she represents the consequences of America’s current diplomatic strategy. It would make for incredible discussion- at home, among peers, or in a classroom mock debate.
After reading a particularly heavy chapter from Brandon’s perspective, as he attempts to escape the North Tower, Reshmina provides a different perspective, when she tells Taz, an American soldier,
Of note, clearly this book contains violence and harrowing images. Brandon watches bodies fall from skyscrapers. Reshmina and her family are caught in gun battles between the U.S. and Taliban fighters. You know your child- if this is too much, you may hold off. However, it is clear Gratz is not writing this book for guts and glory and I didn’t find the story lines to contain “extra” violence to hook the reader. These stories are perilous enough.
This book has a 3.57/5 star review on Goodreads and a 5/5 star review on Amazon. I gave it a 4 star review. I thought there were two cringy (to quote my kids) moments, but I won’t reveal them in case they don’t bother you!
Other books by Alan Gratz:
Gratz, Alan. Ground Zero. Scholastic, 2021.
Gratz, Alan. Refugee. Scholastic, 2017.