Gone, Gone, Gone

Hannah Moskowitz’s third novel for young adults is a prickly, unpredictable romance between two boys — one black, one white; one from New York, one from D.C. — set in the year after 9/11, when the most mundane suburban activities (pumping gas, taking a child to school) became potentially lethal, due to what would later be known as the Beltway Sniper shootings.

Lio is the new kid. He stands out in his new high school in suburban Maryland thanks to his “head like an old couch” (the result of a multicolored home dye job), his big-city-kid cell phone, and his built-in proximity to tragedy as a (mostly) lifelong New Yorker. But his personal life is equally dramatic: Not only is he a former cancer kid; he is a former cancer kid whose twin brother, Theodore — “yeah, Theo and Lio, it’s a problem” — didn’t make it. Since then, his mother, unable to cope, has ditched him and his five sisters to be raised by his single father. As his therapist says, “You’re a little fucked up, aren’t you?”

His crush, Craig, has fewer obvious issues. His father is a school principal; his mother, a social worker; his older brother lives at home and works at a suicide hotline. “My family is a little adorable,” he concedes. Even being a gay teenager causes him very little grief, though, he admits, “the fact that my parents are entirely okay with my homosexuality makes talking about it kind of difficult, because when you’re gay and single the only thing you have going for you is imagined shock value.” (Craig, the suburban teen with the great family is, by the way, the black guy; Lio, the city kid with problems, is white). But Craig’s ex-boyfriend, Cody, is out of the picture for reasons that, we later learn, are tangentially related to the larger national tragedy of the year before. Since then, caring for and clinging to a menagerie of animals (four dogs, five cats, one bird, three rabbits, and a guinea pig) has become a crucial prop for Craig’s sanity, until he wakes up one morning to find out that they, too, are — as the title has it — gone, gone, gone.

Plenty of lesser writers would be content to coast on the built-in drama inherent to keeping these various plot points aloft, but Moskowitz’s aims are more cool, complicated, and cerebral. She gets at the uncomfortable parts buried under the clichés of big tragedies, both national and personal. At one point, a fight breaks out in a high school classroom: Was 9/11 more important in NYC than in D.C., which, after all, was also hit? Is a lone domestic sniper in suburbia less paranoia-inducing than an international terrorist plot? Do more deaths make each death more significant? Or, as Craig says of his father, who also recovered from a dramatic football injury in his youth, “He and Lio should start a club of people who shouldn’t be alive, and Mom and I should start a club of people who shouldn’t be jealous, but are, a little, because we will never really understand.”

Moskowitz herself, according to her blog, lived in the Maryland suburbs during this period, though she was even younger than her teenage characters — she was ten years old in 2001, eleven during the following year’s shootings. Clearly, the events of the time loomed over the last cusp of her childhood. But rather than lean on the maudlin and the melodramatic, she conveys the ordinary range of responses — from anxiety to acceptance — of people living through events that even they know at the time will be looked back upon as spectacle.