Ground Zero

Scholastic. Feb. 2021. 336p. Tr $17.99. ISBN 9781338245752.
Gr 4-7–Gratz (Refugee) writes a searing indictment of America’s involvement in Afghanistan, told through two gripping parallel narratives. On September 11, 2001, nine-year-old Brandon accompanies his father to his job at New York City’s World Trade Center. The two are separated during the ensuing terrorist attack, and, with help from others, Brandon survives. Eighteen years later, 11-year-old Reshmina, living in a remote Afghan village, sees her country and family devastated by the Taliban and the U.S. military, despite both armies’ claims of protection. Brandon’s and Reshmina’s lives intertwine in a fateful encounter that challenges America’s policies as well as its presence in Afghanistan, and puts a human face on the resulting suffering. Vivid details immerse readers in the two disparate settings. The plot starts at a heart-pounding pace and never relents: Brandon and Reshmina’s lives are in danger at every turn. In a superbly structured plot, the two protagonists experience similar perils, and both respond with determination and hope. Gratz provides readers with a brief history of Afghanistan and its occupation by foreign powers. Speaking through Reshmina, he concludes “the United States had surely destroyed Afghanistan.” The book includes extensive back matter, making it an excellent choice for classroom discussion.
VERDICT A contemporary history lesson with the uplifting message that humanity’s survival depends on us working for, not against, one another. A must-have.

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