cover image Ground Zero

Ground Zero

Alan Gratz. Scholastic Press, $17.99 (336p) ISBN 978-1-338-24575-2

Publishing in time for the 20th anniversary of 9/11, this tautly paced novel by Gratz (Resist) explores the events of that tragedy and the subsequent American response through two parallel story lines. In September of 2019, devoted student Reshmina, 11, lives in a mountainside village in Afghanistan, dreaming of a future other than marriage. When she rescues an American soldier who is wounded by the Taliban, her village becomes a Taliban target. On Sept. 11, 2001, after being suspended for standing up to a bully with his fists, nine-year-old Brooklynite Brandon Chavez accompanies his kitchen manager father to the Windows of the World restaurant in the World Trade Center’s North Tower. In alternating perspectives, the narrative tackles grim realities of both scenarios, including ongoing violence in Afghanistan and bodies falling from the tower in New York, balancing the horrors with moments of grace and hope. While the U.S. story conveys immediacy and depth, the Afghan story lacks nuance, relying on simplistic explanations when describing the history of the Taliban and what draws Reshmina’s twin brother to its ranks. Similarly, dialogue proves didactic as it works to convey the politics, history, and moral calculus surrounding the events. Ages 9–12. (Feb.)