When You Were Older by Catherine Ryan Hyde
Russell Ammiano works on the 104th floor of the World Trade Center. On the morning of September 11, 2001, the phone rings while Rusty is rushing to work. The news is devastating: Rusty's mother has died of a stroke, leaving his brain-damaged older brother Ben alone. This news also saves Rusty's life. He's still at home when two planes hit the World Trade Center - and only one of his friends and colleagues survives. In a single day, the life Rusty built in New York crumbles to the ground.
Rusty returns to his tiny hometown and the brother he was more than happy to leave behind. Ben hasn't changed a bit, but the town has. Tensions are running high in the wake of the terrorist attack, while Rusty struggles to put the past behind him and care for the exasperating brother he loves. He finds refuge drinking coffee in the early morning with beautiful Egyptian-American Anat in her father's bakery.
Rusty is beginning to get his life back...until one awful night threatens to take it all away again.
Review by Brittany:
This is the first and only book I've read that is post-9/11 based, and I loved it. So much of this book does not necessarily have anything to do with 9/11, but the main character, Russell, is a survivor, and there are times when this has clearly colored his feelings and thoughts about his life and his world.
Russell's mother dies on the same day that the Towers fall. He knows he has to get home to take care of his mentally ill brother, so he hitchhikes to Kansas from New York. When he arrives, he is a bit of a mess. He hasn't been home in 6 years, and he now faces the task of maintaining the routine that is so important to his brother, even though he has no idea about the life he lives. He is also faced with the daunting task of helping Ben understand that their mother is not coming back, ever.
As the story develops, Ben and Rusty begin to have a better relationship. Even though Rusty hasn't been around for 6 years, the author makes it clear that Rusty loves his brother and wants to take care of him. Rusty's budding relationship with Anat develops as well, and this is where the strongest post-9/11 themes come from in the book.
I was surprised by other characters' reactions to Anat because she is Egyptian, but I feel like this author was probably right on the money with the way that people felt at that time. They were judgmental and cruel because of their own perceived notions of what she stood for, which were incorrect.
This book is not a happy book. Every time Rusty starts to get back on his feet, something happens that sends him crashing back down. Ben will still be Ben and will still have brain damage, no matter what. Anat will still struggle with perception and judgments. But the author wraps the book up in such a way that the reader is left feeling like they can all make it, if they can just hold on to each other. And because of that, I loved this book and definitely recommend it.
Everybody looks at you and judges you more stable. Because they can't see inside.
Why doesn't love feel good? Why does it make you feel like you're about to die? Why doesn't it make you feel like you're about to live?
I was tired of knowing things. Everybody wanted me to know things. All things I'd be happier not knowing.
"You always know that someday a door will open and in will come the one you've waited for. And then the waiting is done. And the rest of your life can begin."
Sometimes you have to close yourself up. Shut the portals into the places inside you that still know how to feel. Because there's just nothing you can do.
Once you misplace the ability to be yourself without thinking about it, without second-guessing it, you're pretty well cooked.
It felt sad to fail at something so basic.