On My Bookshelf: The Memory of Things by Gae Polisner

November 27, 2017

The Memory of Things by Gae Polisner alternates between two first person narrators: Kyle, a teenage boy trying to make his way home from school on 9/11, and Hannah, the teenage girl he rescues on the way. Kyle and Hannah are both struggling with burdens that neither is fully prepared to disclose at first. In the midst of great tragedy, the two try to comfort each other, but also have moments of teenagers just being teenagers. Read on for more of my review and ideas for classroom application.
The basic plot from Amazon: On the morning of September 11, 2001, sixteen-year-old Kyle Donohue watches the first twin tower come down from the window of Stuyvesant High School. Moments later, terrified and fleeing home to safety across the Brooklyn Bridge, he stumbles across a girl perched in the shadows, covered in ash, and wearing a pair of costume wings. With his mother and sister in California and unable to reach his father, a NYC detective likely on his way to the disaster, Kyle makes the split-second decision to bring the girl home. What follows is their story, told in alternating points of view, as Kyle tries to unravel the mystery of the girl so he can return her to her family. But what if the girl has forgotten everything, even her own name? And what if the more Kyle gets to know her, the less he wants her to go home? The Memory of Things tells a stunning story of friendship and first love and of carrying on with our day-to-day living in the midst of world-changing tragedy and unforgettable pain—it tells a story of hope.
The Memory of Things by Gae Polisner alternates between two first person narrators: Kyle, a teenage boy trying to make his way home from school on 9/11, and Hannah, the teenage girl he rescues on the way. Kyle and Hannah are both struggling with burdens that neither is fully prepared to disclose at first. In the midst of great tragedy, the two try to comfort each other, but also have moments of teenagers just being teenagers. Read on for more of my review and ideas for classroom application.

Why I liked it: The Memory of Things took me two tries to get started reading, but once I did I couldn't stop. The novel alternates between two first person narrators: Kyle, a teenage boy trying to make his way home from school on 9/11, and Hannah, the teenage girl he rescues on the way. Kyle's sections are written in a traditional narrative style, but are broken up by Hannah's sections, which are written almost in verse, which is what I got stuck on during my first attempt at reading.

Kyle and Hannah are both struggling with burdens that neither is fully prepared to disclose at first. Kyle's mother and sister are across the country and were supposed to fly home that day, his father is a police officer responding to the scene of the event, and his Uncle Matt is wheelchair bound at home. Hannah is experiencing temporary amnesia (I'll leave you in suspense as to the why). In the midst of great tragedy, the two try to comfort each other, but also have moments of teenagers just being teenagers. 


Classroom application: Reading the novel was a very personal experience for me because I too was a teenager when 9/11 occurred, and though I was not living in New York City, I shared the experience of watching the event unfold on television and overcome the nation in the days that followed. Students today do not remember the event, and more likely than not weren't even born yet, so to help them create a personal connection with the novel, they could be assigned an interview of someone who was alive that day. In the interview, students could focus on not just where their interviewee was and what they were doing that day, but their views on how 9/11 changed the world in the short and long term.

A fun activity for students to try out during reading would be memory exercises similar to the one Kyle teaches Hannah. You could even hold a classroom competition for the title of student with the best memory.

This novel could be paired with other young adult fiction focused on 9/11 like Love is the Higher Law by David Levithan and others mentioned in this article. The novels could be used in themed literature circles focused on how the same historical event is portrayed in fiction.

If you are interested in purchasing a copy of The Memory of Things for yourself, you can find it on Amazon here.

Note: The Literary Maven is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to amazon.com.

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