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Book Review

Publisher's Note:

In time for the twentieth anniversary of 9/11, master storyteller Alan Gratz (Refugee) delivers a pulse-pounding and unforgettable take on history and hope, revenge and fear -- and the stunning links between the past and present. September 11, 2001, New York City: Brandon is visiting his dad at work, on the 107th floor of the World Trade Center. Out of nowhere, an airplane slams into the tower, creating a fiery nightmare of terror and confusion. And Brandon is in the middle of it all. Can he survive -- and escape? September 11, 2019, Afghanistan: Reshmina has grown up in the shadow of war, but she dreams of peace and progress. When a battle erupts in her village, Reshmina stumbles upon a wounded American soldier named Taz. Should she help Taz -- and put herself and her family in mortal danger? Two kids. One devastating day. Nothing will ever be the same.…

Ground Zero

by Alan Gratz

Overall Book Review:

With his newest book, Ground Zero, Alan Gratz fills a literary void left vacant for a long time. This historical novel based on the events of September 11, 2001 brings that day into focus for young readers. Older elementary students are given a look at these events that shaped the lives of the adults in their world and that to a large degree shaped the world itself. Modern elementary students have usually heard of the attacks in passing and in short lessons in school, but do not have the same understanding of a day that has had such enduring importance that the results are seen even currently.

This novel follows two protagonists, a boy in New York City at the World Trade Center and a girl in a small village in Afghanistan. Through the viewpoint of these two characters, the author addresses issues dealing with terrorism, religious extremism, and the politics of war, but does so in a way that young readers will understand and identify with. Both main characters are quite relatable and have concerns, such as family and friends and safety, that resonate with all children.

The story itself is exciting and suspenseful, and the author weaves facts into the action of the story so deftly that the history lesson is disguised as an engaging adventure novel. Readers come away from the book with many facts about and emotional responses to the 9-11 events, but they learn these things without feeling like they are being taught them. Gratz’s gift for turning history into story is as evident in this book as it has been in his past successful novels. His treatment of the subject matter is true to the fact and at the same time sparks interest. Gratz has delivered another amazingly good book.

Review of an Advance Reading Copy

This book was sent to Compass Book Ratings for review by Scholastic

Content Analysis:

Profanity/Language: 15 religious exclamations; 4 mild obscenities.

Violence/Gore:  A character threatens another with a gun; textbooks use war as story problem examples to teach things like math and science; report of a fistfight; report of arson; report of a murder; report of public executions; a few reports of soldier and civilian deaths in war; report of a gunfight; planes crash into a buildings, and the effects of the crashes are seen throughout the rest of the story, so they are mentioned repeatedly; characters watch a plane crash into a building; report of civilian injured by a landmine; a few reports of a past terror attack with injuries and deaths; report of people killed in a plane crash; characters accidentally cut themselves a few times; a character injures himself in a fall; a character is badly wounded in battle (not described graphically); characters wrestle a few times; a boy slaps a girl; a character throws a rock at another;a building is bombed; a fight with guns and artillery in which characters are injured and killed; characters witness people fall to their deaths from a great height a few times; a few characters drop to death in an elevator; a battle in which buildings are destroyed and people are shot, with at least one death; a ceilings collapse on characters, killing a few of them; characters find a dead bodies a few times; buildings are destroyed causing thousands of deaths; characters see bodies, badly wounded people, and body parts after a terror attack.

The afterword contains historical details about terror attacks and war. It also mentions a government punishing crime by removing criminals’ hands and feet. None of the facts give graphic details, but deaths and injuries are mentioned.

Sex/Nudity:  Adults kiss.

Mature Subject Matter:

War and terrorism (primarily the 9/11 terror attacks, though others are mentioned) are major themes of this book; death (sibling, parent); gender discrimination; religious extremism; holy war/jihad is briefly discussed; bullying (mention); slavery (mention): teen marriage (reported); arson (mention); drug addiction (mention); report of parents selling their children; discussion of the necessity or meaninglessness of war; family strife; abject poverty; refugee situation (mention).

Alcohol / Drug Use:

A joke about operating a vehicle while drunk; discussion of heroin use and the drug trade; adults smoke cigarettes.

Overall Book Rating

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About the Reviewer

My taste in literature leans heavily towards sci-fi, fantasy, and (my favorite) horror, and the latter can present some fairly murky waters for parents to let their children explore. I enjoy novels of both the standard and graphic varieties. Since those genres, and graphic novels in particular, tend to appeal to boys, I hope that I can help other Boy Mommies in their quest to find books that their little video gamers--I mean, future bibliophiles will read and enjoy. When I am not reading, I enjoy tabletop role-playing games, video games, and singing karaoke. I have a wonderful husband who lets me indulge my reading habit by sharing the housework and being a great dad to our genius kids and their faithful hound.