Monday, November 16, 2009


Publisher Review: United We Stand

by Eric Walters.

The sequel to: We All Fall Down.

First, the first book, which I read before I started this site:
We All Fall Down was published in 2006, and was the first children's or teens' book I saw that dealt directly with the events of 9/11 - five years after the fact, and I grabbed it right away. It seemed we were ready, and thought our children were, too. The book unfolds as Will joins his dad in the South Tower of the World Trade Centre for a horrifically-timed take-your-kid-to-work day. Will's dad is the classic workaholic, and Will harbours more than a touch of resentment about it, but as he sees his father jump into action as his floor's fire warden after the North Tower is struck, he begins to see him in a new light. His quick action saves lives, as he clears the floor of nearly everyone, ignoring the announcements that everything is alright, but this keeps Will and his father above the impact site when their tower is hit. What follows is their journey - painful, difficult, but full of moments of tiny heroisms - as they make their way down the stairwells.

The writing here is believable, the description of the trip down the stairs fully imagined in great and plausible detail. On the way, Will's feelings about his father change, and their relationship reforms, though this is not belaboured. My only complaint about the book was the very ending, which came across as just a touch cheesy, but I also see why it was necessary for it to end as it did. On the whole, I was impressed by Walters' treatment of a really difficult day - he managed to avoid the traps of getting too wrapped up in sentiment, or of making it too action-movie-style, thus putting together a fairly balanced, respectful telling of one imagined story from that day.

Where the first book ends, United We Stand picks up - on September 12th, 2001. As important and surreal and emotional as the actual day of 9/11 was, the few days afterwards were nearly as bad and strange and laden with fears and tears as the shock began to wear off, and here Walters works towards showing how the event did not end in a single day for the people of New York or, in fact, for people anywhere.

Will and his father wake to the aftereffects, which include not only cuts and lungs full of the dust of the WTC collapse, but also some psychological effects that don't show up right away. Will's mother, too, shows us how the panic of the day before has taken its toll on her, and also provides some information on stages of grieving for Will to use in beginning to understand himself and his friend James and their reactions.

Early in the day, Will's mother suggests they visit James' family, who are still waiting for news of his firefighter father, who Will had seen and was pretty sure was not coming home. James and his mother show us two very different ways of handling their grief and the slow loss of hope as the rescue mission began to move towards recovery as the day wore on.

It is, again, a difficult topic, and tricky to tell a story that is thoroughly thought through and realistic while being both respectful and interesting. While some of what happens may not be entirely plausible, it is well-written to make it seem as if it is, so being able to see the plot devices isn't annoying here. In the end, there is again a touch of the cheese about the last little bit, but it is not too heavy-handed, and confined to the ending, where it was, I think, maybe a little necessary, as with the first book.

On the whole, I thought this sequel handled the grief and shock of Sept. 12th really well, and I would recommend this pair to anyone curious about that day or looking for a good teen book with action, friendship, and growing up.

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