Wednesday, July 27, 2016

BOOK REVIEW: All We Have Left by Wendy Mills

I received this ARC from NetGalley in exchange for my honest review. The scheduled publication date for this book is August 9, 2016.

Sixteen-year-old Jesse is used to living with the echoes of the past. Her older brother died in the September 11th attacks, and her dad since has filled their home with anger and grief. When Jesse gets caught up with the wrong crowd, one momentary hate-fueled decision turns her life upside down. The only way to make amends is to face the past, starting Jesse on a journey that will reveal the truth about how her brother died. 

In 2001, sixteen-year-old Alia is proud to be Muslim . . . it's being a teenager that she finds difficult. After being grounded for a stupid mistake, Alia decides to confront her father at his Manhattan office, putting her in danger she never could have imagined. When the planes collide into the Twin Towers, Alia is trapped inside one of the buildings. In the final hours, she meets a boy who will change everything for her as the flames rage around them . . . 

Interweaving stories from past and present, All We Have Left brings one of the most important days in our recent history to life, showing that love and hope will always triumph.

This book was such an amazing and emotional and thought provoking book about one of the biggest events in our history. This book blew me away. I finished it almost a week ago and I am still thinking about it.
I was in college when the Towers fell. I admit that I was kind of naive about just how big this event was and how much all of our lives would be shaped by it. There is "before 9/11" and "after 9/11."

This book alternates between two characters and two different timelines. It would seem like this would be confusing, but it's not. In the year 2001 we meet Alia, a Muslim who is struggling with her parents' expectations and her faith with who she wants to be. The morning the towers fall, she decides to wear her hijab for the first time, gets in a horrible fight with her mom and then goes to the World Trade Center to talk with her father. In the year 2016 we meet Jesse, a girl struggling with her parents' neglect and her father's hatred towards Muslims, both of which started after her brother Travis died in the Towers fifteen years earlier.

Alia was so interesting and I just loved her character. Her parents wanted her to be a lawyer or a doctor. She wanted to write comic books. She even had a comic strip about a Muslim superhero she named Lia. Awesome, right? When she decides to wear the hijab for the first time, I could see how big of a deal that was and how much her faith meant to her. When she goes to the World Trade Center, I wanted to shout at her, "DON'T DO IT!" 

I knew what was coming and reading her chapters was so hard. When the planes hit, there was panic and smoke and confusion and no one really knew what happened or why it happened. There were so many heroes in that building and so many people who helped perfect strangers. I think I cried every time I read her chapters. I am tearing up now just thinking about it. I can't imagine what it must have been like to be in the World Trade Center on that day. One thing I didn't realize until reading the author's note was just how many people survived on that day. I guess I thought that most of the people in the Towers died. There was so much suspense around Alia's chapters because I had no idea if she was getting out or not. I wanted her to so badly, especially because her last words to her mom were, "I hate you." I'm not going to give away the ending. I will just say that I don't think I stopped crying for the last 10% of the book.
It took some time before I was as invested in Jesse's chapters. I guess she was just kind of a blah character at first, but she did grow on me. I hated her family and I hated the things her dad would say about Muslims. More than that, I hated that she was absorbing some of that hate. She had so much anger inside of her and I could see her going down the wrong path. Even though the Towers fell when she was only three years old, she felt the effects of her brother's death every single day. I can see why she took on some hate for Muslims, even though I didn't like it. Her parents refused to talk about her brother AT ALL and the only time her dad acknowledged her was when he was yelling about Muslims at the TV. 
This author did a good job of showing how much prejudice Muslims went through (and continue to go through) since 9/11 and sometimes those things were so hard to read about. Maybe that's a bigger reason why it took me a bit to invest in her: the anger that her and her father showed just made me uncomfortable. There was so much incredible character development and growth and I loved it. I also thought the romance was slow burn and it was sweet, even though it was incredibly complicated.

It's hard to tell too much without giving things away. But I will say that there were so many ways that this book made you think . . . about religion and race and death and even new ways of thinking about this incredibly tragic event. This book is a must read!!
Buy/Borrow/Skip: Buy this one for sure!!


  1. Oh wow. This sounds so good and difficult at the same time. Definitely adding it to my list.

    1. I am so glad Joy! It's difficult but important. And I just know you will love it.

  2. Wow this sounds amazing. 9/11 was such a surreal day for me. I was in college and in on of our dorms we could see the towers so everyone just sat watching. It was insane. This sounds like a book I will cry my way through for sure. And love you have a Flight of the Concords gif . Great review!

    1. Oh wow, Grace, so you were in the city?? I was in New York, but upstate in Rochester. There will be much crying in this book for sure.