Published by Bloomsbury USA Childrens on August 9th 2016
Two girls. Two lives. One event that changed them—and the world—forever.
Now: Sixteen-year-old Jesse is used to living with the echoes of the past. After her older brother died in the September 11th attacks, her dad filled their home with anger and grief. When Jesse gets caught up with the wrong crowd, one thoughtless decision turns her life upside down. The only way to make amends is to face the past, starting Jesse on a journey that could reveal the truth about her brother’s death.
Then: In 2001, sixteen-year-old Alia is a proud Muslim—it’s life as a teenager that she finds challenging. After being grounded for a stupid mistake, Alia decides to confront her father at his office in one of the Twin Towers. But when the planes collide into the building, Alia finds herself in danger she could never have imagined. As the flames rage, she has no choice but to trust a boy she’s just met and hope they have enough time to make it out alive.
It is a bit dismaying to me that an event that I not only lived through but also remember with vivid clarity happened long enough ago that they’re writing historical fiction about it. However, that is my only complaint about ALL WE HAVE LEFT by Wendy Mills.
ALL WE HAVE LEFT tells the story of two girls — Jesse, a modern teenager growing up in a post-9/11 world; and Alia, a Muslim teenager caught in one of the towers when the planes hit. Though neither girl knows it, their lives are connected. Because Alia was caught in that tower with Travis, Jesse’s brother, and Travis didn’t make it out alive.
This dual narrative is deftly woven. Jesse has grown up in a house where so many things can’t be said. No one talks about Muslims or Travis or 9/11 or what happened that day. All Jesse knows is the anger and hatred that permeates her home and her family’s history, and it infects her, too. She hangs with a crowd who feel that same anger, and feels like they’re letting her find her voice by spraying the sides of buildings with paint in the night. But when Jesse gets caught tagging the side of the Peace Center, the words she’s written — Go home, terrorists — aren’t even hers. Not really.
This is a story about what happens when we fail to listen to each other, when we fail to remember that people who are different from us are still people, when we fail to imagine our world complexly and practice empathy. Jesse is the character I connected with the most in this story (though Alia’s narrative of struggling to figure out what she believes, how she fits in with her family, and how to practice her faith in a cynical and often disapproving world also hit a lot of resonant chords). It was Jesse’s growth, Jesse’s determination to find answers, to understand, to grow into a better person, that I was truly rooting for all the way through.
This is a book we need now. This is a book I wish didn’t have to be written. But it is so topical and so important, and we should all read it, and learn from Jesse, and resolve to be better. This is an important book for our time, and I can’t recommend ALL WE HAVE LEFT enough.