Through the Looking Glass Children's Book Reviews

United We Stand

United We Stand

Eric Walters
Historical Fiction
For ages 12 and up
Random House Canada, 2009   ISBN: 978-0385666404

When Will first wakes up on September 12, 2001 he does not remember what happened to him the day before. Then he sees his left hand, which has a large cut on it that had to be sewn up. He starts to cough and remembers the suffocating cloud of dust that had enveloped him when the South Tower of the World Trade Center had collapsed.

Will and his father were in the South Tower when a plane piloted by terrorists crashed into the building. They were able to get from the eighty-fifth floor past the crash site, which had destroyed a large part of the building beneath them. They were even able to rescue Ting, an injured woman that they found on the seventy-fourth floor. They carried her, taking turns, down seventy-four floors to street level. Will’s father was actually in the lobby when the building finally collapsed. Thankfully he was blown out into the plaza and though he was injuried, he is alive. Which is more than can be said for thousands of people.

One of the people still missing is the father of Will’s best friend, James. James was in New York City yesterday too, hanging out at the fire station where his father works as a fireman. Will and his dad met James’ father going up the stairwell of the South Tower as they were coming down.

Wanting to support his best friend and his family, Will and his mother go over to James’ house. James’ mother is fiercely cheerful, ever hopeful, and she shows no outward sign of the worry and fear that she must be feeling inside. James is not able to present such a strong façade to the world. He is hiding out in the basement playing his guitar and soon after Will arrives James breaks the guitar by smashing it on a wall. He is angry and fearful, and feels guilty because he did not accompany his father to Ground Zero. Seeing James struggle is distressing, and Will does what he can to help his friend.

Later that day, after Ting and her family visit Will and his father, James comes over, asking Will to go for a walk with him. James cannot stand being in the house with his ever optimistic mother. It is just too much. The boys walk for a while and then James announces that he is going to go to Ground Zero. He has to see the place for himself. Will has known James since they were both in kindergarten and so he goes with James, even though the last place he wants to be is back at the place where the “monster” almost killed him.

When he gets to Ground Zero, Will begins to appreciate that when he told his mother that he was “fine” he was lying to her. He is not really fine at all. How can one be fine after such an ordeal? How can one not be touched by so much loss and fear?

Learning to cope in the aftermath of a loss is never easy. For young people who have never encountered the stages of grief, life can become very confusing after such an event. Watching Will and James struggle to understand what has happened to their world is certainly painful; but it is also empowering because we see how they rise to the challenge, even as they struggle to come to terms with the fact that they will never be the people they were before the attacks happened. On their journey together, the young men discover important things about themselves and about their relationships with their fathers, and they begin to understand that they are going to have to accept that they have a journey of recovery ahead of them.