Love Is the Higher Lawby David Levithan
First there is a Before, and then there is an After. . . .
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Bestselling author David Levithan (Every Day; Boy Meets Boy; Will Grayson, Will Grayson with John Green) treats the tragic events of September 11th with care and compassion in this novel of loss and grief, but also of hope and redemption.
First there is a Before, and then there is an After. . . .
The lives of three teens—Claire, Jasper, and Peter—are altered forever on September 11, 2001. Claire, a high school junior, has to get to her younger brother in his classroom. Jasper, a college sophomore from Brooklyn, wakes to his parents’ frantic calls from Korea, wondering if he’s okay. Peter, a classmate of Claire’s, has to make his way back to school as everything happens around him.
Here are three teens whose intertwining lives are reshaped by this catastrophic event. As each gets to know the other, their moments become wound around each other’s in a way that leads to new understandings, new friendships, and new levels of awareness for the world around them and the people close by.
David Levithan has written a novel of loss and grief, but also one of hope and redemption aAs histhe characters slowly learn to move forward in their lives, despite being changed forever, one rule remains: love is indeed the higher law.
A MARGARET A. EDWARDS AWARD WINNER
From the Hardcover edition.
Read an Excerpt
Love Is the Higher Law
By David Levithan
Knopf Books for Young Readers
Copyright © 2009
All right reserved.
My first thought is: My mother is dead.
When Mrs. Shields, the school secretary, shows up so gravely in the doorway and gestures for Mrs. Otis to come over to her, I am sure that my mother has died, that I am now going to have to pack up my books and go to Sammy's school and collect him and tell him that Mom is dead and I'm all he has now and somehow we'll get by. I am so sure that something is wrong, incredibly wrong, and I can't imagine what else it could be. I am already gathering my books as Mrs. Shields whispers to Mrs. Otis. I see Mrs. Otis nod, distressed, and then Mrs. Shields disappears back into the hall. I sit up straighter, waiting for Mrs. Otis to look at me, to say my name. But instead she looks at all of us and says, "Class, a plane has hit the World Trade Center."
Katie Johnson gasps. Other kids start talking.
I am blank.
And then Mrs. Otis asks, "Do any of you have parents working in the World Trade Center?"
We look around. No. But Teresa says that Jill Breslin, who's in one of the other senior English classes, has a father who works there. I think of our apartment, only ten blocks away from the towers. I know my mother isn't home. I know she left with me and Sammy this morning and continued uptown to her office. But suddenly I'm wondering: Whatif she forgot something? What if she went back to the apartment? What if she took the subway down to Chambers Street, underneath the towers?
I've gone from being sure she's dead to being unsure she's alive, and that's much scarier, because it almost feels rational.
Mrs. Otis informed us on the first day of school that there would be no cell phone usage tolerated in class, but now it's the fifth day of school and there's nothing she can do. She's trying to hold it together, but she's as confused as we are. Cell phones are ringing, and all these kids are telling their parents they're okay, we're all okay--our school is a good thirty blocks north of the Trade Center. Abby Winter's mom starts telling her what the news is saying, and then she tells it to the rest of us: "The plane hit around the ninetieth floor. The building's still standing, and people are evacuating. Firemen are going up. The other tower looks like it's okay..."
My friend Randy spots a TV in the back of the class, but when he tries it out, all we get is static. I know Randy has a phone and I ask him if I can use it. I try calling Mom's office, but nobody picks up. I leave a message on the answering machine, telling her I'm okay.
The principal gets on the PA and says that all the classes have been informed of the "situation downtown," and that if there are any "concerned students," they should come to the guidance suite. We all know what he means by concerned students--he means if your parents are there.
We're not a big school. There are only about seventy kids in each grade. So I can't help imagining Jill Breslin down there in the guidance office, and a few other kids. Teresa's getting frantic now, saying she has to go see Jill. And it's not even like they're best friends. Mrs. Otis tries to calm her down, saying the guidance counselors will take care of it. And I think that kind of makes sense, since the guidance counselors are adults, but it also doesn't, because even if Teresa isn't best friends with Jill, she definitely knows Jill more than any of the guidance counselors do.
The thought of Jill Breslin in that guidance office makes me feel I should go to the lower school and see Sammy. I wonder if they've told the second graders what's happening, or if Mrs. Lawson is closing the blinds and giving them a spelling test.
Suddenly there's this big scream from the classroom next to ours--at least ten people yelling out. Mrs. Otis goes to the door connecting her room to Mr. Baker's, and about half our class follows, so we're there when she asks what's going on. But nobody needs to answer--Mr. Baker's gotten his TV to work, and it's not one but two towers that are burning, and they're saying on the TV that there was a second plane, that the towers are under attack, and seeing it erases any premonitions I might have had, because even if I felt something was wrong, I never would have pictured this.
This isn't even something I've feared, because I never knew it was a possibility. Kids are crying now, both in Mr. Baker's class and in my class, and we're looking at each other like What do we do? and the principal is on the PA again telling everyone to remain calm, which only makes it worse. It's like the principal knows something he's not telling us, and the TV is saying that people are jumping, and Teresa just loses it completely, and we're all thinking about Jill and who knows who else, and people are trying to call their parents on their cell phones, but now all the lines are busy, or maybe they've stopped working, and I don't even have a cell phone and neither does my mother. I just want to get Sammy and go home.
All of our class is in Mr. Baker's room now--it's practically the whole twelfth grade. Mrs. Otis and Mr. Baker are in the front, talking to each other, and then Mrs. Otis heads to the office to see what's going on. Randy offers his phone to me again, but says it's not really working, although maybe it will work for me. It doesn't, and I don't know what else I can do, except I realize now I should've given my mom Randy's number. The TV is showing people downtown running away. I tell Randy I have to get my brother, and saying it to him makes it mean I'm going to do it.
I go up to Mr. Baker and say my brother's in the lower school, in second grade, and I have to go get him. This girl Marisol hears me and says her sister's over there, too, in first grade, and is probably really scared. Mr. Baker says nobody is supposed to leave the school, but we tell him we're only going across the street, and we must sound really desperate, because he looks at us and says it's fine, as long as we come straight back.
From the Hardcover edition.
Excerpted from Love Is the Higher Law by David Levithan Copyright © 2009 by David Levithan. Excerpted by permission.
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Meet the Author
David Levithan is a children’s book editor in New York City. He lives in Hoboken, New Jersey.
From the Hardcover edition.
- Hoboken, New Jersey
- Date of Birth:
- Place of Birth:
- New Jersey
- B.A., Brown University, 1994
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
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This book was definitely a new area for me to read, but i enjoyed it just the same. It doesn't really focus on 9/11 itself, but more of the emotional aspect it had on others. David Levithan did an excellent job with writing qoutes that i will remember. Sometimes I would just stop and deeply reflect how this book was changing me, mind and body. It is definitely a new take on the world. Kudos to you, David. Kudos to you.
I struggled for a long time to decide what I would do on my blog to honor 9/11. It just didn’t seem right not to do something. After a lot of thought, I decided the best thing I could do would be to share with you my review on a book that’s a few years old, a book I actually read for the first time last year, on the anniversary of 9/11. I don’t know what finally made me decide to read this book, especially on that day, but I’m glad I did. It was beautiful. “And here we are, so different from who we were on September 10th. And also different from who we were on the 11th. And the 12th. And yesterday.” I’ve never been through something that impacted my life so thoroughly, yet not at all, as I was on that day and in the days following. I was too young to remember the first attempt to bring down the towers in 1993 or the Oklahoma City Bombing in 1995. Actually, maybe it’s not a question of being too young, I was 14 and 16, respectively, but I was safe, living at home with my parents. I was protected. I knew those events were horrific and sad, but I didn’t fully understand the weight of them. I grew up in a small town. I went to college in a small town. I spent my entire life in small towns – up until the end of August 2001. It was then that I packed up and moved to the Washington DC suburbs. I wanted excitement. I wanted to live where the action was. I didn’t have any idea what was going to happen just a couple short weeks after I moved. “I know immediately that this is going to be one of the true historic moments of my life – that the personal and the historic are converging. I know people will ask, ‘Where were you when you first heard?’” Without getting into all of the details, I’ll say that I was home alone on 9/11. My roommates were all at work. I was to be going to work in the afternoon. Our apartment was about 10 miles from the Pentagon. I was scared out of my mind. I was in a new city, truly living on my own for the first time in my life, 4 hours away from my parents and the country was seemingly under attack. I will never, ever forget the way I felt that day. “Seeing it erases any premonitions I might have had, because even if I felt something was wrong, I never would have pictured this. This isn’t even something I’ve feared, because I never knew it was a possibility.” Love is the Higher Law follows the lives of three teenagers in New York during the events of September 11, 2001 through the first anniversary of the attacks in 2002 and the start of the war in March 2003. I was originally uncomfortable at the thought of them potentially being in danger, or of losing a loved one. Rest assured, the book does not take that path. It’s more about the thoughts, feelings and struggles these teens have as a result of what happened that day. While the book talks about where each of these characters were when they found out, I never once felt as though it was glorifying the tragedy of the day. “I cannot think of a single word to describe what we feel. I think we all feel it, to varying degrees. Perhaps in some other language there is a word for ‘the world is terribly wrong.’ That feeling of stun and unbelief and abandonment and shock and horror and distress.” The characters drive this story far more than the tragedy does. They were well-developed, believable and relatable. It was easy to empathize with them. They were portrayed so realistically. I have no doubt nearly every teenager in New York City was having similar thoughts and reactions as the events unfolded that day and the city and country began to try to heal after. I don’t need to tell you the plot of this story. We all know what happened that day. It’s the stories of these three teens, and learning how their lives come to interconnect, that makes this book special. “I think that if you were somehow able to measure the weight of human kindness, it would have weighed more on 9/11 than it ever had. On 9/11, all the hatred and murder could not compare with the weight of love, of bravery, of caring. I have to believe that. I honestly believe that. I think we saw the way humanity works on that day, and while some of it was horrifying, so much of it was good.” “Maybe there’s a way to keep us in this moment. Not the sad part. But the coming together part.” One of the things I appreciated most about this book were the small details in this story encompass, for me, the best of what came out of the tragedy. The attention to detail was extraordinary. The observations of the teens in the book so closely mimicked the real-life stories I read after that day. From the shopkeepers who handed out food and drinks and even shoes to those escaping from Lower Manhattan, to those folks grieving together and connecting with total strangers during the memorials held after. Amongst the tragedy and darkness, the death and destruction, there were little signs of hope, of coming together, of all that is the best part of mankind. “In small letters, someone has written NEVER FORGET on one of the slats. I know it’s supposed to be a pledge, but it feels like a curse. Don’t we have to forget some of it? Don’t we have to forget this feeling? If we don’t, how will we live?” The moving-on and living chapters of the book were very powerful to me. The understanding that while things have changed and times are different, you can’t stop living your life. You ride the subway. You fly on airplanes. You go to concerts and other places where there are large crowds of people. New friends are made, new relationships are had. While these characters realized this event had impacted their lives in a very powerful way, they moved forward. Never forgetting, but not letting fear run their lives. “Gone is not forgotten, but our lives cannot be a memorial. This city can not be a memorial. This city has to be a city. Our lives have to be our lives.” If I’m being honest with myself, when I first read the blurb for this book, I had no desire to ever read it. The events of 9/11 are not something I want to read about. They were horrifying and have no need to be dramatized. They don’t need to be a cheap plot line (looking at you, Remember Me). But, I’m really glad that I set aside my doubts and made an exception for this book. It was raw and real. It respected the events. It was a story of grief, yes, but it was also a story of hope. It’s a short, yet powerful, book. It was like a love song to the city. I don’t know that any other author could have made this work as well as David Levithan did. “This is what a memorial is: standing still, staring at something that isn’t there.”
I enjoyed reading this novel a lot. The begginning was a little confusing, but towards the end everything came together which was really unique. Also this shows that when a tragedy occurs, it doesnt hurt one person, it rather brings everyone together. The stoty of these three friends is inspiring and great. Very exeptional read.
Huge thanks to the girl who sat next to me on the bus to Chicago from ALA. She had this ARC in her hands when she boarded the bus for our 3 1/2 hour trip home, and she finished it by the time the trip was over. When I asked how she liked it, she nodded, I believe, then swallowed a lump in her throat, and offered me the book. Once again, thank you! Do you remember where you were on 9/11? The characters in LOVE IS THE HIGHER LAW were all in New York City. So was David Levithan, and that experience was inspiration for this book. As Levithan points out in the Author's Note, many young people today may be too young to have first-hand memories of that world-changing day. By reading the experiences of Jasper, Peter, and Claire, perhaps the emotions of that day and its aftermath can be experienced by readers in the years to come. As the book begins, each character shares where they were and what it was like at the moment. Peter and Claire were affected immediately, while Jasper finds it difficult to admit that he slept through the actual attack and learned about it as he listened to Peter Jennings on the news. The personal experiences of the three become intertwined as the story continues. All three are surprised at how directly they feel the emotions of the event. The life they once took for granted, the city they've always known as home, and the atmosphere surrounding them have them asking questions that have no real answers. David Levithan captures the unique yet universal feelings inspired by the event that touched us all. Amidst the unanswered questions are feelings of greater appreciation for family and friends, the sympathy that goes out to those who lost and suffered most, and the human condition that connects the entire world. Unlike the teen who read the book in one sitting on the bus, I found the need to set it aside at times to sort through my own memories of that day and what has unfolded since. The world is truly a different place, and I've concluded I'm not sure if it is for the better or worse. Time will tell.