The Memory of Things
Author: Gae Polisner
Published: September 6, 2016 by St. Martin’s Griffin
GoodReads Summary: 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.
Review: I read this book several weeks ago, and I still can’t thinking about it. As a few other bloggers have said, this is a book about 9/11—but it isn’t a book about 9/11. It is more a book about friendship, about growing up, and about being human. There are so many topics in this book that are worthy of discussion, and I think teachers will really appreciate its beauty. The writing is quiet yet powerful, and the book has a sort of shattering impact on readers. I loved the connections that Kyle makes in this book, and I particularly enjoyed the ways each of the individuals he interacts with tells the reader more about him. He grows from everyone in this book, and I’d love to discuss this growth with students.
Teacher’s Tools for Navigation: Teachers might ask students to research the many themes of this book to provide background information. They might look at disability/caregivers, PTSD, suicide, and 9/11—just to name a few. They could also look at the different stages of trauma to learn more about how each of the characters reacts differently to the tragic events that occurred on 9/11.
Discussion Questions: Is Kyle helping the girl, or is she helping him?; What do we learn from Kyle’s uncle? What does he teach us about disability and humanity?; In what ways does Kyle show strength, and in what ways does he show weakness? How does he grow from each experience of the text?
We Flagged: “So now I get it. Now I fully understand. Tuesday, and those planes, they’ve broken something. Permanently. And in the process, they’ve changed everything. And everyone.”
This is a quote from an advanced reader’s copy. Some quotes may change before publication.
Read This If You Loved: Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close by Jonathan Safran Foer; The Impossible Knife of Memory by Laurie Halse Anderson; Personal Effects by E.M. Kokie, The Things a Brother Knows by Dana Reinhardt, If I Lie by Corrine Jackson, Purple Heart by Patricia McCormick