I was still a teenager in 2001, and an immature teenager at that. On 9/11 I wrote a poem in my diary about watching people jump to their deaths on television. By September 13, 2001, I was back to writing in my diary about getting the silent treatment and missing allowance money. I didn’t have a way to process 9/11 back then.
So it’s no wonder to me that I seek out middle school-friendly books about 9/11, because a middle school book about 9/11 is exactly what I needed when I was… you know… in middle school.
And, interestingly, all of these books emphasize the importance of connections to others in the face of tragedy — not just our family and close friends, but also those neighbors we never talk to, the strangers in our lives, and the people we don’t even know we know.
Some notable 9/11 fiction books for teen readers include:
- Nine, Ten by Nora Raleigh Baskin
Baskin’s lyrical, concise book follows four different young teens in the hours leading up to the terrorist attacks on the United States. The emphasis here is on the importance of community rather than the tragic events, and our characters are removed from Ground Zero. Given the brisk pacing, the age of the characters, and the gentle treatment of the terrorist attacks, this book is probably a best fit for readers in grades 5-6. However, the topic gives this book significant crossover appeal to a middle school or even a high school classroom.
- Towers Falling by Jewell Parker Rhodes
This book begins in present-day Brooklyn and works backward, as our main character Deja attempts to understand her father’s emotional fragility. While younger readers will probably be surprised to discover Deja’s connection to the 9/11 attacks, older readers will be able to make reasonable predictions about where the story is heading from the generous hints Jewell Parker Rhodes gives us along the way. I appreciate this book not only as a 9/11 book, but also as a book that brings in diverse characters, homelessness, PTSD, Islamophobia, and other social issues. Recommended for grades 5-7.
- Just a Drop of Water by Kelly O’Malley Cerra
Before 9/11, Floridian Jake Green’s only cares in the world seem to be becoming captain of
the eighth grade track team and his grandfather’s war medals. But 9/11 affects everybody, even in this sleepy town, and all of a sudden Jake’s best friend’s father is taken into FBI custody. Cerra presents a traditional middle school friendship novel introduces tough topics like the unfair detainment of innocent Muslims and the role of war in international relations. Recommended for grades 6-8.
- The Memory of Things by Gae Polisner
On the morning of September 11 Kyle Donohue evacuated Stuyvesant High School, blocks away from the World Trade Center, and walked home to Brooklyn
with a large group of refugees. On the way he sees a girl with angel wings who seems lost and confused and brings her to his apartment. This dual perspective story (Kyle’s narrative is straight prose, the girl’s narrative is fractured poetry) is wholly immersive in 2001 period details and is more about people than politics. Recommended for grades 7+
- All We Have Left by Wendy Mills
Hand this book to the reader who wants to be INSIDE the towers as they come falling down. Readers go back and forth between the story of Jesse, who is 2016 was only 2 years old when her older brother Travis died in the World Trade Center, and Alia, who in 2001 was one of the last people to see Travis alive. This book is heavy, but its messages of healing and redemption make it palatable to a wide range of readers. You’ve been warned: bring tissues. Recommended for grades 7+.
Amy Estersohn is a middle school English teacher in New York. Her taste in music is very 2001. Visit her on Twitter @HMX_MSE