Nine, Ten: A Steptember 11 Story

This past week I had the pleasure of getting books mixed up. Every year I like read all the books on the Texas Bluebonnet List. I knew one of the books on the list dealt with 9/11. I ended up mixing Nine, Ten: A Steptember 11 Story by Nora Raleigh Baskin for Towers Falling by Jewell RhodeParker, which is actually on the list. Although I was disappointed because I wanted to read the titles on the Bluebonnet List before I started reading other ones, after I begun reading Nine, Ten I was sucked in. It left me wondering, why wasn’t this book talked more about?

Baskin tells the story of four sixth graders: Will, a white boy from Shanksville, PA;  Aimee, a Jewish girl fresh from Chicago but new to LA; Sergio, a black boy from Brooklyn; and Naheed, a Muslim girl living in Columbus, OH. While their stories all intersect due to the events of 9/11, they briefly met each other days before at the O’Hare International Airport. On September 9, 2001, each one was at the airport waiting for family members to arrive or to leave or for them to depart onto “home.”

Will. Will’s father had died a year ago while he was helping someone stranded on a highway. As a professional trucker, he knew NOT to help someone on the side of a busy highway. But, he did and was fatally killed in a freak auto accident. Will’s family go on a special trip to Disney World on the anniversary of his father’s death. It doesn’t help them forget. Will is still mourning his father’s death while learning how to handle new emotions for a classmate, Claire. Right before Flight 93 crashes in their city, Will and Claire kiss. A first kiss I’m sure neither will forget.

Aimee. Aimee, or Aimeleh, is figuring out how to survive in LA a week after her school started. Because of her cousin’s bat mitzvah, her family stayed in Chicago the first week of school. However, Aimee’s mom had to be in NYC for a meeting at her new job. Aimee’s father was a math teacher but is looking for a job in LA. As young girls are wont to do, Aimee really needs her mother during this transition but she can’t even talk to her. On 9/11, Aimee wakes up extra early to be able to talk to her about what her first day at school really was like. Thankfully, they connect and…yes, her mother whose meeting at the WTC never happened and she is safe.

Sergio. Sergio lives in Brooklyn and has an estranged father. He lives with his nana. The day after he gets back from receiving a special math award in Chicago, his dad shows up, basically using a congratulations as an affront to see if Sergio won any money that ” ‘by law…would belong to me.’ ” Of course he doesn’t, but this early morning “visit” hurts Sergio so he skips school. By an interesting stream of events, Sergio meets and befriends an off-duty firefighter, Gideon. When 9/11 happens, Sergio knows Gideon, who traded his normally off Tuesday with another firefighter, will be out helping. Gideon survives in the end.

Naheed. Naheed has worn the hijab since third grade. Now in sixth, it seems to be on everyone’s mind. Eliza, an odd girl, tries to befriend Naheed. In order for Naheed to avoid answering a question about her hijab, she calls her questioner, Eliza, “Annoying Eliza” and it picks up. Thus, instead of Naheed being proud to explain why she wears the hijab, she accidentally started her classmates to “harmlessly” bully Eliza. Naheed feels terrible; she knows she should be proud like her family says, but she is reserved. She decides to apologizes to Eliza and have her sit with her at lunch. That day would be 9/11 and by the end of the day, when Naheed is frantic to get back home, she overhears kids talking about who were responsible for the attacks: “terrorists…Arabs…you know, Muslims. The ones with those things on their heads.” She decides to wait for her sister to get out of elementary school and they walk the 2 miles, under the beautiful, clear, robin-egg blue sky.

Baskin writes tersely and yet draws you into caring for each unique child. She changes the third-person perspective for each chapter. She rotates chapters religiously first with Will, then Aimee, followed by Sergio, and lastly with Naheed. I felt like the book ended too quickly. After reading what each child faced at the beginning of 9/11, I wanted to read about their reactions the day after. But Baskin skips all of that and jumps to 9/11 a year later. All of the kids make it to the memorial meeting in NYC and here their lives intersect again.

Since I remember vividly the events of 9/11, it’s odd to look at this book in the genre it is: historical. It was devastating to see the events unfold; in fact, we watched not only the second plane hit the WTC, but we watched the towers “cracking, popping, bang-bang-bang” exploding down. I was pretty shook up. But, at the end of the day, to go to my senior English AP class and hear my Muslim classmates breakdown as they related how they were being treated that day will never leave me.

Honestly, I had no idea who would do such a terrible thing. Yet some of my fellow classmates did (and more surprisingly sixth graders in Naheed’s school did too) and took the time to make Muslim or even “Arab-like” teens feel bad for things they didn’t do.

Nine, Ten offers a lot to discuss: from bullying to family structures and from terror attacks to fear and to ultimate interconnectivity between humanity. It offers many avenues to branch off of and talk about. I highly recommend it.

What do you remember of 9/11?

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