Love is the Higher Law by David Levithan
Release Date: August 25, 2009
Publisher: Knopf Books for Young Readers
Target Audience: Young Adult
Format: Hardcover borrowed from library.
Why I picked it up: Intrigued by a 9/11 book.
Summary: 9/11, the days after, and how it affects the lives of three people (mostly strangers): Claire, Peter, and Jasper and ultimately, connects them.
It’s difficult to read a book about 9/11 without thinking about where I was when it happened. I feel kind of shameful about it now, to be honest. I don’t think I ever really took the time to understand what all of it meant. I was a junior in high school, sitting in my English class when someone walked in to tell us a plane hit the Twin Towers. School was pretty much over as we knew it. No one was doing much in class. Everyone was on their cell phones. Rules had zero effect. I remember going home all day and being unable to get in touch with the boy I had been talking to because signals were down. I lived 10 minutes away from New York City, and many of my friends had parents who commuted. One of them waited all day and all night until her dad finally made it home. From one of the main roads in my hometown, you could see the skyline – suddenly filled with smoke that didn’t lift for a long, long time.
I originally thought I would include a snippet from my journal during that time but there was nothing that really stood out to me to share. A few days later, I did include this quote from The Green Mile (I loved that book!):
I’m rightly tired of the pain I hear and feel, boss. I’m tired of being on the road, lonely as a robin in the rain. Not never having no buddy to go on with or tell me where we’s comin from or goin to or why. I’m tired of people being ugly to each other. It feels like pieces of glass in my head. I’m tired of all these times I wanted to help and couldn’t.. I’m tired of being in the dark. Mostly it’s the pain. There’s too much. If I could end it, I would. But I can’t.
They are not my own words but I could see how I felt they were so relevant at the time.
Sometimes I feel so outside of the events of 9/11. I didn’t personally know anyone that died. But it did make my mother reconsider my dream of going to school in the city. It did make me realize how something can happen on any given day and even though you realize that, you can’t let it stop you from living your life. I think this is why I really liked the premise of Love is the Higher Law. Most of the books/movies, etc. were focused on people who had loved ones die during the attacks, and this was a story about three people who lived in New York and were affected by it in other ways.
Now I’ve only read David Levithan’s work in Will Grayson, Will Grayson, which I loved. One of my favorite reads of 2011. But I was so enamored by his poetic writing. He was able to evoke such emotion without unnecessarily over-hyping everyone’s feelings. It felt rightfully organic and there were so many times I felt so touched by the pain Claire felt or the detachment that Jasper was experiencing. One of the most beautiful scenes I have probably ever read was during one of Claire’s sleepless nights when she wanders into Union Square, where people had started a makeshift memorial for all the missing. It’s raining out, and all the candles are burnt out. But Claire and another woman work together to light every single candle standing out there. They didn’t speak more than a few words to one another, and Claire worked so diligently to feel like she was doing something.
Then you have Peter and Jasper. Two people who are flirty and free at a party before 9/11 and – two days after the world completely changes – are anything but, resulting in a disaster of a date (although Liza Minnelli is involved). I think it’s interesting to read their perceptions of one another as the chapters switch from person to person, just because these two people are experiencing the same moment so differently, and with Claire, we basically just see Claire. One of my favorite details about Peter is how much he relates music to how he is feeling. There’s a huge emotional moment towards the end of the book at a concert that had tears rolling down my face too. I didn’t even need to know the band or the song they were singing. It’s just amazing the things in life that make us connect and feel other people’s feelings.
That’s what this book is all about. Connection, disconnection, hope, fears, and the unknown. I was reading a review of Extremely Close and Incredibly Loud a few weeks ago and the critic started by saying that 9/11 isn’t something he is over or something he is ever going to be over. And it’s true… 11 years later, I feel the same way. Even if I was only 16 years old when it happened and the only World Trade Center I knew was from when Kevin visited them in Home Alone 2.
There’s a constant struggle to make sense out of these enormously horrid things that happen during our everyday lives. (Even the smaller atrocities too.) I think Love of the Higher Law is a true representation of our generation, one that has seen the effects of an event like 9/11 and how it has changed our perception of the world around us. It pinpoints hard-to-swallow and hard-to-work-through problems without being preachy or over-dramatic or pretentious or pompous. We can be strong even when we lack the understanding of certain events and the reasons behind them.