Tuesday, August 9, 2016

Review: All We Have Left by Wendy Mills

All We Have Left by Wendy Mills
Publisher: Bloomsbury USA Childrens
Release Date: August 9th, 2016
Purchase: Amazon
A haunting and heart-wrenching story of two girls, two time periods, and the one event that changed their lives—and the world—forever.

Sixteen-year-old Jesse is used to living with the echoes of the past. Her older brother died in the September 11th attacks, and her dad has filled their home with anger and grief. When Jesse gets caught up with the wrong crowd, one momentary hate-fueled decision turns her life upside down. The only way to make amends is to face the past, starting Jesse on a journey that will reveal the truth about how her brother died.

In 2001, sixteen-year-old Alia is proud to be Muslim... it's being a teenager that she finds difficult. After being grounded for a stupid mistake, Alia is determined to show her parents that that they must respect her choices. She'll start by confronting her father at his office in downtown Manhattan, putting Alia in danger she never could have imagined. When the planes collide into the Twin Towers Alia is trapped inside one of the buildings. In the final hours she meets a boy who will change everything for her as the flames rage around them . . .

Interweaving stories past and present, full of heartbreak and hope, two girls come of age in an instant, learning that both hate and love have the power to reverberate into the future and beyond.

My thoughts:

Two girls. Two stories. One event that shocked and changed the world.

Alia is trying to visit her father in World Trade Center when she gets stuck in an elevator with a guy called Travis. Was it just a malfunction? Could it have been an explosion? Is someone going to come and help them? What happens next is something no one ever expected to happen.

Jesse lost her brother almost 15 years ago at the September 11th attacks. While her parents are still together, they are both trying hard to keep quiet about Travis and what happened to him. Her mother keeps herself busy with work and other activities, while her father drinks and rages on the television. When Jesse befriends a group of graffiti artists, she ends up tagging an anti-Muslim message and gets caught. Forced to do community service at a Muslim Peace Center she starts to learn more about herself and also becomes curious about her brother, a young man who will forever be 18, a guy she never really knew and a person she has only come to known as the brother who died tragically.

I think the way Mills is able to balance the two stories and the two time periods is excellently done. As the novel processes, the two stories start to intricately weave together and more and more parallels are found between the two. Both Alia and Jesse are extremely interesting characters who both struggle with issues of confidence and finding your place in a world that is constantly changing. Alia's story is mostly tied up to the 11th of September, while Jesse's story spans a longer time and thus allows for more character development.

I was ten years old in September 11th, 2001 and I also have a clear recollection of where I was when I heard about the attacks to the World Trade Center. I lived in Finland at the time, so the events felt quite distant for me, but even then, I feel like I was aware of the fact that what had happened was extremely tragic and that it would change things. Not only in United States, but all over the world. In the novel, Jesse never really knew her brother. She was only a toddler when 9/11 happened, and for a long time she has been trying to figure out how to grief for someone she never really knew. She knows that she is supposed to be sad, and she is, but without knowing anything about her brother it feels to her like her sorrow is very superficial.She knows she makes a mistake when she generalizes that all Muslims are to blame for what happened to her brother, and I think she really learns from that mistake, in many different ways.

Due to its subject matter, this novel is obviously very sad. The events that happen in the tower and as well as the discrimination also Jesse engages in made me both angry and heartbroken. Both 9/11 and the treatment of Muslims in US are very controversial topics to write about, but I think Mills shows sensitivity in her treatment of both. The acknowledgements at the end of the novel thank both 9/11 survivors who have shared their stories, as well as Muslin families who have welcomed Mills to their home for research purposes, so I would like to assume that readers from both of those groups (survivors and Muslims) can read this book without feeling like they are wrongly or unfairly represented. I am really looking forward to reviews from young Muslim reviewers in order to read their thoughts on this one.

Thinking about the current political climate in the United States with the election coming and Donald Trump trailblazing his way forward, the way this novel depicts attitudes towards the Muslim population made me kind of sick at times. I think Mills has done wisely to include that discrimination here to show the reality of the situation, and I think she handles the treatment of it well. But just thinking that there are some so narrow-minded people out there baffles me. I won't go into more political discussion here, but if you are politically inclined, I think you might find this one an interesting read!

I have a feeling All We Have Left will be making waves once it is published. It is beautifully and sensitively written, sad but occasionally uplifting tale about human endurance, bravery, forgiveness and second chances.

Five Snowflakes


  1. Whoa, this sounds so good and very powerful. I think you may have just sold me on checking this out someday. It sounds very emotional and intense. And, hey, I was 10, too, when this happened--it's all so surreal to think of it.

    Basically: great review. Love hearing your thoughts.

  2. Great review! I've not read her debut yet, but it's on my TBR. Glad to know this one is a great read, so I'll be adding this one also.

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