Ever read a book and when you begin it you cringe thinking you already know how disappointing it will be? Well, I will say that’s how I felt when I opened Love is the Higher Law by David Levithan — it was my first book by him and well, the topic of 9/11 was one that I just don’t think can be done well just yet. Maybe never. But I was wrong. Very, very wrong.
Love is the Higher Law takes its name from one of my all time favorite songs, “One,” by U2. The story, told from three alternating perspectives, begins on the morning of 9/11 in New York City. Each of the three main characters — Claire, Jasper, and Peter — takes turns telling where they were and what was going on. I immediately connected with Claire because she was only a year older than I was when 9/11 happened. Although our moments in time were quite different, I just felt a connection with her that really helped me relate to the story.
This isn’t a simple story of the day of 9/11. Levithan does a really great job of connecting the characters to one another because as much as this is a story of alternating perspectives, it’s ultimately the story of one experience and one “being” — how we ALL relate to one another, and how we all related to one another in the moments of 9/11. The story follows the characters in the days following 9/11, as well as six months later and one year later.
Love is the Higher Law is a short book, but it’s mighty powerful. People like me who were aware of what was going on that day and in the days and months following can really connect, but it’s what Levithan writes in his author’s note that makes this book so powerful. He makes note that today’s teenagers were so young when 9/11 happened and just don’t have the stories to connect to. They’ve forever been in a post-9/11 world, and it’s our duty to share our stories so they don’t disappear. As much as we’re all hesitant sometimes to reflect or write about such a historic and defining moment, it’s something we should and have to do to ensure others “get” it.
I think what really struck me the most in this book was the use of U2 as a major thematic element. I think teens, who already have such intimate relationships with music, will connect with the idea that a band or an album can be a powerful instrument of memory and of humanity. As one of those people who absolutely fell in love with All That You Can’t Leave Behind, I really found that Peter’s connection with it is perhaps exactly why I find that to be such a strong album. This kind of defines the book and the historical importance of the entire moment, and it does so in a way that I think anyone can feel and understand. I thought it was an innovative way to develop a theme and plot without making it inaccessible to non-U2 fans or making it a story about one band. It’s much more, but this layer will really click with some readers without leaving others in the dark.
While I read this book quickly, it’s one that I know will stick around. I’d recommend this book to just about anyone because I think it will resonate with all readers. I applaud Levithan for writing it, and I can only hope other authors follow. And the alternating perspectives? Spot on. That’s a rarity.
Let me be fair in saying I had one HUGE criticism, and that would be the last few pages of the book. What made this title great was how apolitical it was. But in the end, Levithan made his political beliefs a little too clear. Moreover, for a book focused on 9/11 as an event and moment, making blatant political criticisms didn’t sit well and, I think, diverged from his ultimate goals. I found it out of place in the book and out of character. I wish he’d left this out — this is one of those issues I feared most in beginning any book on this topic.
Go read this one, please. As much as I’ve read about this book being award-worthy, I’m mixed on that. I feel giving it attention via an award might make teens a bit resistant to reading it (be honest — you slap a book with an award and sometimes that’s the last time it’ll be read), but I feel it also might fall behind other titles because it hasn’t had enough spotlight on it yet. Not to mention the professional journals didn’t give this one a good review, which is a bit short sighted. I just don’t think you can compare this title to Levithan’s others — it was written with an entirely different purpose and goal, and he hits a home run with that intention. Read it for the story and be pleased enough to pick up other books by this author. Don’t read it to compare it to his other books.