LOVE IS THE HIGHER LAW, David Levithan. This quietly powerful YA novel, beginning with the events of 9/11 and focusing on the year after, takes its title from a line in the U2 song "One." The idea of "One" is symbolic here in terms of people coming together.
Claire, Peter and Jasper, all New York teens, are barely acquaintances when the story opens, and they couldn't be more different from one another, both in basic temperament and how they experience that awful day. Claire is sitting in homeroom when the news comes, her first concern for her mother and little brother. Peter, who sees the world through music, is waiting for Tower Records to open, and is immediately bereft in a new world where music no longer fits. As for Jasper, well, Jasper sleeps through it all.
There was no blueprint to guide anyone through that singularly terrible day of horror and destruction, but in the aftermath Claire, Peter and Jasper begin forming friendships amongst themselves and further begin to recognize the beauty that bloomed out of tragedy in the form of millions of people coming together as one.
Considering the looming immensity of that day, there really aren't that many novels about it, and still fewer YA novels. As Mr. Levithan explains in an Author's Note, he wrote the book in part because he realized that as history marches relentlessly on, there will be fewer young readers with any experience of what it meant to be in New York at that time. It is a gift to the world of YA fiction that Mr. Levithan has written this book now.
Here are three quotes from these three very different characters, giving just a glimpse of the power of this material:
Jasper, describing his parents' reaction upon returning to the city many days after the event: "...the Manhattan skyline suddenly came into view. My father saw it first, and without a word, he started to cry. A few one-at-a-time tears down his cheeks, quickly blotted away. My mother gasped, held her hand over her mouth. The smoke was gone. The fires were out. So what they were reacting to was the absence, the space."
Claire, trying to persuade Jasper that there are other ways of viewing 9/11: "I think that if you were somehow able to measure the weight of human kindness, it would have weighed more on 9/11 than it ever had."
Peter, watching U2 perform "One" in concert: "As Bono sings, the names of all of the 9/11 victims are projected onto the backdrop of the stage. All of those names. And the song transforms into something much bigger than it is. And we transform into something much bigger than we are. We are crying and holding on to each other and singing along and reading, reading, reading."
You know a writer's done a good job when you can't stop quoting from his book.
Be well. Don't forget to write.