In the Shadow of the Fallen Towers | Review
In the Shadow of the Fallen Towers: The Seconds, Minutes, Hours, Days, Weeks, Months, and Years after the 9/11 Attacks
By Don Brown
Houghton Mifflin, August 2021
Grades 7 up
When I was growing up, the question to ask my parents and their contemporaries was: Where were you when JFK was shot? But my children and their contemporaries are asking us, the adults, where were you when The Towers fell? It’s hard to wrap around my mind around the fact that in just a couple of weeks, it will be 20 years. I can close my eyes and recount nearly step-by-step the events of that day, from putting on my make-up in front of the television as the news initially broke, to getting into my car and opting for the radio report instead of my usual audiobook, because I sensed that this was “big news,” to hearing an eyewitness gasp and say “A second plane just hit!” and the immediate recognition that this was a terrorist attack. But for my children, and my students, all born after 2001, 9/11/2001 is a day they learn about in history.
Brown begins his retelling of that fateful day from the point of view of Jules Naudet, the videographer working the FDNY that day, who caught footage of the plane going into the first tower and later followed the FDNY into the Towers. He recounts the events of the day from many points of view, giving us a glimpse of the dispatchers waiting to hear from any company after the Towers fell, to a teenager sobbing, because his father was making deliveries in the towers.
The retelling is very simple. Many of the facts will be familiar to readers who lived through the events but new to the next generation. The events shift from the point of view of the first responders to citizens who were in or near the Towers. The events are told factually, with people often talking directly to the reader, personalizing the story to make it more than just something that happened a long time ago, but a story that happened to people, many of whom are still alive to tell about it.
The artwork, with clear inked lines, and rough watercolor to fill in the sketches, reinforces the drama of the events. Heavy grey overtones are used in the coloring, depicting the ash and despair of the day. There are bursts of red and orange for bursts of fire. Brown captured images of the pile, the papers flying everywhere. (I still remember ash and paper falling near my home in Brooklyn.)
The story isn’t limited to the events in NYC but also retells what happened at the Pentagon, and the plane that went down in Shanksville, PA with the heroic people who attempted to fight back and win control of the plane. Brown humanizes the story by bringing in small anecdotes, like what happened to pets left in pet daycare or how people spent days and weeks hanging photos of loved ones who would have been in the towers. Brown also talks about the days after. The clean-up, and how many first responders were sickened from working at the site. He talks about going into Afghanistan and how the events also led to a rise in anti-Muslim sentiment. In this slim graphic novel, he tries to touch it all.
Brown, who is also the author of The Unwanted: Stories of Syrian Refugees, wraps up the story with an afterward about Afghanistan (which is a bit out of date, due to current events), and there are many notes and citations.
For those of us who witnessed that today, but especially the youth who were born afterward, this is an excellent addition to anyone’s personal or library bookshelf.
About Esther Keller
Esther Keller is the librarian at William E. Grady CTE HS in Brooklyn, NY. In addition, she curates the Graphic Novel collection for the NYC DOE Citywide Digital Library. She started her career at the Brooklyn Public Library and later jumped ship to the school system so she could have summer vacation and a job that would align with a growing family's schedule. On the side, she is a mother of 4 and regularly reviews for SLJ. In her past life, she served on the Great Graphic Novels for Teens Committee where she solidified her love and dedication to comics and worked in the same middle school library for 20 years.
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