Friday, May 31, 2019

Book Review: "Hope and Other Punchlines" by Julie Buxbaum

"I know better than anyone that you can't always draw a straight line from the who you once were to the who you are now."

Abbi Hope Goldstein celebrated her first birthday on September 11, 2001. While that doesn't make her completely unique, one fact does: on that fateful day, a photographer captured her, wearing a birthday crown and holding a red balloon, while the South Tower of the World Trade Center collapsed behind her.

That photo, entitled "Baby Hope," became an iconic symbol of that day. It truly gave people hope, and as Abbi grew older, she continued to be the subject of intense media curiosity. Strangers would stop her on the street and hug her, crying, sharing their memories of 9/11. It's hard to be infamous for something you didn't have any control over, and living in the New Jersey town that experienced the greatest number of casualties outside of NYC that day, she can never seem to escape the legacy of "Baby Hope."

But this summer, just before she turns 17 and starts her senior year of high school, she's determined to do something for herself. She signs up to be a counselor at a day camp two towns away, where no one will know her as anyone but Abbi. It's the perfect plan before she has to confront some issues she's dreading.

It turns out that Noah Stern, who is one year behind her in school, has decided to be a counselor at the same camp. Not only does he know that she is Baby Hope, he believes it was his destiny to meet her. His life changed, too, on 9/11, and he convinces/blackmails Abbi into helping track down the other people who were in her iconic photo. But neither of them is being completely honest about the impact of that day on their lives.

As they work to carry out Noah's plan, their relationship begins to deepen, but the secrets that both are hiding could be a barrier too great to overcome. Hope and Other Punchlines is a powerful, poignant story about trying to move away from the shadow of your past, and finding the strength to make a fresh start. But at the same time, the book shows us that everything that occurs in our life makes us the person we are, even if we'd rather not acknowledge those things and their effect on us.

"Something happens when the story you tell yourself turns out not to be your story at all. You have to figure out what to replace it with. Something needs to grow in the space left behind."

I found this book absolutely beautiful—it's emotional but it's funny, too. Even when I thought there really wasn't another angle by which to approach 9/11, Julie Buxbaum found a gorgeous story which sprung from those left behind. The burden that these kids carried on their shoulders, for different reasons, really moved me, and I was completely invested in this story from start to finish. In fact, I read the entire book in just a few hours.

I had never read any of Buxbaum's books before although I've always meant to, since I'm such a YA fan. Now for sure I'll definitely be picking her earlier books up. But I can't recommend Hope and Other Punchlines enough. It's a story of family, friendship, love, loss, guilt, grief, and, of course, hope.

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