Author: Gae Polisner
Publisher: St. Martin's Griffin
Publication Date: September 6, 2016
The powerful story of two teenagers finding friendship, comfort, and first love in the days following 9/11 as their fractured city tries to put itself back together.On the morning of September 11, 2001, sixteen-year-old Kyle Donohue watches the first twin tower come down from the window of Stuyvesant High School. Moments later, terrified and fleeing home to safety across the Brooklyn Bridge, he stumbles across a girl perched in the shadows. She is covered in ash and wearing a pair of costume wings. With his mother and sister in California and unable to reach his father, a New York City detective likely on his way to the disaster, Kyle makes the split-second decision to bring the girl home. What follows is their story, told in alternating points of view, as Kyle tries to unravel the mystery of the girl so he can return her to her family. But what if the girl has forgotten everything, even her own name? And what if the more Kyle gets to know her, the less he wants her to go home? The Memory of Things tells a stunning story of friendship and first love and of carrying on with our day-to-day living in the midst of world-changing tragedy and unforgettable pain—it tells a story of hope.
I've read quite a few books about 9/11 in my years as a reader. Many of them have been nonfiction, but quite a few of them were fiction. As a reader, it's always interesting for me to see fictional stories line up with events that I remember, and 9/11 is definitley one of those events. When I started reading The Memory of Things, I knew that I was looking for something emotional that tied the tale of that day to the lives of the characters that I was reading about. I got that and so much more with Gae Polisner's heartbreaking and hopeful novel.
On the morning of Tuesday, September 11, 2001, Kyle Donahue was in a classroom at Stuyvesant High School in Manhattan. Minutes after the first tower fell, he finds himself on the Brooklyn Bridge, trying to escape everything that is happening around him. Then he spots something unusual, and instead of moving toward safety, he goes back to check it out. He finds a girl who is covered in ash and wearing a pair of wings. Kyle gets her to join him, and he takes her her to his home where they live out the days after the worst terrorist attack in the history of the United States.
The writing style of The Memory of Things is a bit odd and takes a little getting used to, especially during the first few pages. That's the only reason why I'm knocking off a star here... just because it takes some getting used to and because I felt like I had to reread sections just because of the way that it's written. Other than that, I enjoyed the first person narrative and the first person verse that Ms. Polsiner presents to readers in this novel. There are definitely two very different voices (Kyle and the girl) telling the story, and it's an eye-opening experience to see them live through the days following the tragedy.
Now I said that there are different subplots going on while New York is dealing with the collapse of the World Trade Center, right? I don't want to spoil them for any potential readers, but I will say that I really liked how they had their own meaning and symbolism while still relating to the two teens telling their stories.
The characters in The Memory of Things are also very different and unique. From the beginning of the book, I could really see Kyle as being a New Yorker during 9/11, trying to understand what's going on, but still trying to be there for his family and his new companion. He's strong and caring, but most of all, he learns that he has so much more strength than he originally thought he had. Then there's the girl that he meets. At first, she seems meek and refuses to talk, but she learns to trust Kyle and his uncle as she spends time with them after the attack. I really enjoyed going on her journey and learning who she is as she tried to heal.
To say that I enjoyed Gae Polisner's The Memory of Things is an understatement. This book touched my heart in a way that I wasn't expecting, and because of that, I'm pretty sure it will remain with me for the rest of my life. Not only did Ms. Polisner write about a day that I and so many others remember so vividly, but she also incorporated other huge issues into the plot making this a very well rounded book. Yes, the book's plot has a lot to do with 9/11 and the days that followed, but there really is so much more to this book. It's a little bit of a love story, plus it's a coming-of-age tale that grapples with all sorts of grief.