Dèja Barnes doesn't want to stand out at the integrated Brooklyn Collective Elementary, and she wishes her family could move out of the Avalon Family Residence into a home; despite her fears, Dèja tackles new friendships, a new teacher, and the mystery behind her father's deep sadness.
On the first day of fifth grade, the African-American girl makes fun of Mexican-American Ben's cowboy boots and Muslim Sabeen's cheery attitude, but despite her defensiveness, Dèja grows to appreciate her new friends' backgrounds. The trio draws from each of their experiences to help them navigate Miss Garcia’s 9/11 curriculum. Dèja hates thinking about the past—her old best friend, her old neighborhood, her old home—yet the more she learns, the more she understands that this event affected her and every American. Rhodes pulls off the difficult feat of making a well-known story new. Sept. 11 is anchored in the minds of many readers, but for a new generation, it is history they learn in school, like Dèja. Through her eyes the event becomes fresh, heavy, and palpable, but at times 9/11 appears to be a competing rather than complementary protagonist. The cadences of the fifth-graders flow almost like slam poetry, emphasizing their feelings and senses over drawn-out descriptions or narration.
This tender retelling of tragedy is a solid vessel to help young readers understand the gravity of 9/11 and how it touches all Americans, no matter where we come from. (author’s note) (Fiction. 8-12)