Love Is the Higher Law

Love Is the Higher Law

4.4 11
by David Levithan

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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

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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 as his characters slowly learn to move forward in their lives, despite being changed forever.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Levithan (How They Met, and Other Stories) successfully takes on the task of writing a 9/11 novel that captures the heartbreak of the events of that day through the eyes of three teenagers. Claire, in school that morning, finds herself drawn to late-night walks downtown. Her classmate Peter, waiting outside Tower Records to purchase the new Dylan album, watches the towers fall. And college student Jasper, who had previously met and planned a date with Peter, spends the day collecting papers that have blown into Brooklyn from the World Trade Center (“Something as mundane as two sheets of paper from an office file could provide the final evidence of how vulnerable we are”). Over the next weeks and months, they slowly and tentatively connect with each other, engaging in a healing process parallel to the one New York City itself experiences. Levithan renders the three distinct voices of his characters convincingly, and if some stylistic gambits (notably a 12-page paragraph conveying Peter's post-9/11 uncertainty) miss, more often than not Levithan brings genuine emotion to his portrayal of three broken teenagers helping each other heal. Ages 12–up. (Aug.)
Children's Literature - Summer Whiting
Claire, Jasper, and Peter start this day just like any other. Claire is enjoying the start of her senior year of high school. Jasper is getting ready to head to college and Peter is ditching first period for Tower Records. But this morning happens to fall on September 11, 2001. Told from the perspective of three New York City teens, the reader is permitted to experience this day's events in an honest and telling manner. Levithan captures raw emotion and gives a voice to the generation whose ensconced adolescence will forever be connected to this horrendous tragedy. The events of 9/11 are what prompt this story to unfold, but it does not end there. Relationships are explored, healing takes place, and a beautiful resilience emerges through the days, weeks, and months that follow. This story brings to life a moment in America's history, something a textbook could never do. This would make a beneficial complement to a high school history or English class. It is important to note that there is a glaring error in the summary of this novel found in the beginning of this book. It notes that the World Trade Center was bombed; this is unacceptable as this is inaccurate and counterfactual. Reviewer: Summer Whiting
VOYA - Robbie Johnston
Claire, Jasper, and Peter's lives are only loosely connected, but when the World Trade Center is hit by a plane on September 11, a series of events are set in motion that will change their lives forever. Peter and Jasper must come to terms with how they can begin a relationship when their world has been shattered; Claire and Jasper find kindred spirits in one another while looking out upon Ground Zero; and Peter and Claire find friendship and comfort in one another. Told in Levithan's distinctive style of relating a story in multiple points of view, this book blends New York culture with popular music. Two protagonists are gay, but the focus is on their reactions to the events that unfold rather than on their homosexuality. Readers in places far removed from New York might experience a disconnect, as could those who were younger on that tragic day. The pacing is slower than some might be used to, but the story is filled with thought-provoking arguments and well-crafted dialogue, rewarding patient teens with a satisfying ending. This title might sit on the shelf initially, but with booktalking or as part of the curriculum, it should prove popular enough. Reviewer: Robbie Johnston
School Library Journal
Gr 8 Up—Claire and Peter are friendly acquaintances at their New York City high school. Jasper is a freshman in college. They attend a mutual friend's party, and Peter and Jasper make a date for the evening of September 11, 2001. They reschedule and have an excruciating date a week later. Claire and Jasper meet again by chance at Ground Zero when neither can sleep. Claire is called to action, Peter is reverent, and Jasper, a kind of "expert dodger," can't feel a thing. The three come to develop a deep friendship. Levithan's character development is quick and seamless. He defines the trio's personae by how they perceive the tragedy, how they interact, and how they observe the world. The author's prose has never been deeper in thought or feeling. His writing here is especially pure—unsentimental, restrained, and full of love for his characters and setting. Though the trio's talks and emails are philosophically sophisticated, Love Is the Higher Law is steadily paced and tightly, economically written. Discussion of the U.S. invasion of Iraq feels like overkill, but it brings the novel to an appropriately queasy end. Levithan captures the mood of post-9/11 New York exquisitely, slashed open to reveal a deep heart.—Johanna Lewis, New York Public Library
Kirkus Reviews
Crafting a young adult novel about 9/11 is no easy feat. A triptych-like framework breaks the event into three experiences that reflect both those who witnessed it firsthand and those who saw it from a distance. Claire sees the attack from the windows of her downtown high school. Peter watches the second plane hit while standing in line at Tower Records. Jasper, home from college and hung over, oversleeps and sees the World Towers collapse over and over on television. Emotions swirl and love is found, lost and regained. The characters feel current within the historical setting, but the music and film references read more like 30-something ephemera instead of 2001 teen culture. Levithan stumbles most with voice: Often Peter's and Claire's lose their clarity and pack too much wistful adult wisdom. Though not pitch-perfect throughout, Jasper's feels the strongest, especially when he struggles through a fumbling date with Peter. Their scenes together are the most memorable, probably because love stories are what the author does best. He's got two here: one between the two boys, one between New York City and humanity. (Historical fiction. YA)

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Product Details

Random House Children's Books
Publication date:
Product dimensions:
5.50(w) x 8.30(h) x 0.70(d)
Age Range:
12 - 17 Years

Read an Excerpt

Love Is the Higher Law

By David Levithan
Knopf Books for Young Readers
Copyright © 2009

David Levithan
All right reserved.

ISBN: 9780375934681

Chapter One

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.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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