American Widow

By | Tuesday, March 03, 2009 Leave a Comment
Despite a fairly hectic schedule recently, I did manage to weasel out some time to read American Widow by Alissa Torres and illustrated by Sungyoon Choi.

This is a difficult book to review, I think. Not that I have any particular connection to the creators, or anyone mentioned in the story, but because it's about 9/11. I think it'd be exceedingly difficult to tell a personal story about someone who died during the attacks on that day and NOT turn out a very powerful story. That day is still wrapped with a great deal of emotional baggage that everyone who watched that day unfold has not fully distanced themselves from. (Although it might be worth noting that, for kids in middle school, that day is already ancient history; they were at most only 3 or 4 when it happened.) So reading the story of how one woman lived through that experience -- her husband having started work in the World Trade Center only the day before -- it was very difficult to not be gripped by the story.

"Of course it's a powerful book! How could it not be?"

What's easy to lose sight of, though, is that it's very well crafted. The book opens shortly after the first plane hit the World Trade Center. It's a somewhat obvious opening -- almost a mandatory one -- but from then on, the story hops from past to present repeatedly, as we piece together the life that Alissa and Eddie had, and the life Alissa has to continue on with. And that's where, I think, the excellence in craft is most evident. Although the overall story is told more-or-less chronologically, it does a lot of jumping back and forth. And while this could easily get pretty confusing, it never really is. Yes, there are dates captioned when necessary to provide a specific "historical" context, but they're back of the subject matter and flow smoothly. Torres has smartly chosen to tell the story as it makes the most sense, not necessarily in the order that everything happened.

Life is what you make, the saying goes. And the story here is a heartening one; it's the story of Life, and how we cope. It's the story of adversity in all its forms, and how we can choose to deal with it. It's how someone can experience the worst that can be thrown at them and still stand tall and walk onward, despite whatever scars they might accrue.

This story could've been a "gimme." It could have been simply one person's cathartic re-telling of what happened to them because of 9/11, and it would've sold reasonably well. But American Widow is much more than that; it's a well-crafted tale of tragedy and the human spirit, and is only made all the more visceral by the emotional weight of 9/11 that we still carry.
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