New Release Review: All We Have Left by Wendy Mills

All We Have LeftAll We Have Left by Wendy Mills
Genre: YA Contemporary (with a dash of Historical)
Publication Date: August 9th, 2016
Publisher: Bloomsbury USA Childrens

Synopsis from Goodreads:

A haunting and heart-wrenching story of two girls, two time periods, and the one event that changed their lives—and the world—forever.

Now:
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 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.

Then:
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 is determined to show her parents that that they must respect her choices. She’ll start by confronting her father at his office in downtown Manhattan, putting Alia 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 past and present, full of heartbreak and hope, two girls come of age in an instant, learning that both hate and love have the power to reverberate into the future and beyond.

Wendy’s Review

The first thing about All We Have Left that drew my eye was that cover.  It is so beautiful, not just the image but the color scheme.  However, after pausing to look at it my though was that it would be about some frou-frou love story that’s way too sappy and shallow.  I was being completely judgey, which I discovered as soon as I read the synopsis.  There’s very little that’s shallow about All We Have Left‘s plot.  Yes it’s about 9/11, which  is a time period that I steer away from simply because it’s too hard.  I am 37, I do know exactly where I was when I got word about the planes hitting the towers.  Reading about it, or watching movies, makes me feel shaky.   What actually made me decide to pick up All We Have Left was its unique viewpoint, about the tragedy of 9/11 and the current level of animosity that Muslims now face today.

The start of the story felt a little bit tricky to me.  The flopping back and forth between Jesse in 2016 and Alia in 2001 made it hard for me to fully commit to either character, and at first I really thought that the read would be a negative experience.  In particular, while Alia was just slightly annoying, I didn’t really like Jesse at all.  I’m not a big fan of spineless characters and Jesse made some of the worst decisions.  Thankfully as the story progressed, somewhere around 30%, I understood what the author was trying to convey.  Jesse was messed up, and what made me feel compassion for her (where I originally was just annoyed) was that she was the product of a messed up family.  The death of her older brother, Travis, in the towers left her family in ruins and caused her to feel invisible in her own home.  Her anger was a bi-product.

Shortly after I began relating to the two teens, the switching of POV’s grew on me.  I found that I was as invested in 2016 as much as I was in 2001, but for very different reasons.  You know, since the story is based on a recent historical event, that what was happening in 2001 was going to end in heartbreak.  You dreaded getting there, yet at the same time you wanted to read about Alia’s battle to survive and especially you wanted to read about her time with Travis.  (I hope that isn’t a spoiler.  I feel like the synopsis makes it pretty obvious that ‘the boy who changes everything’ was Jesse’s older brother.)  The slow merging of 2001 with the events of 2016 was pretty powerful.  What started out as tricky ended up being perfect.

While I did love how Wendy Mills chose to lay out Alia and Jesse’s path, and the two girls relationships, what I really loved the most was Travis.  Going into All We Have Left you know that Travis doesn’t make it, and my Heaven does it hurt.  Between Jesse’s search for more information, and Alia’s time with Travis in the tower, we got this wonderful picture of a boy who struggled but was so brave.  The idea that he was lost and his sister wouldn’t know him, that his future was cut off, it killed me.  Travis represented so much, so many people gone.  This may sound sappy, but it was like Jack and Rose on the titanic, Wendy Mills made you care so much about Travis that even though you knew what was going to happen you prayed it didn’t.  You wanted history altered, so that everyone could escape… I cried myself to sleep.

Waking up the next morning, thinking about it with clear emotions (mostly clear, I’m still sad), I recognize that I can’t forget the struggle in the beginning.   All We Have Left could have used a stronger start, and so as much as it ended with emphasis I’m held back from giving it the full 5 stars, and instead I request that you read this book as though I rated it with 5 stars.  It has a really amazing lesson, it has a really great character, and it deserves our time.

Rating: 4 Stars = B

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