Big Apple Diaries

Roaring Brook. Aug. 2021. 288p. Tr $22.99. ISBN 9781250774279; pap. $14.99. ISBN 9781250774286.
Gr 5-8–Bermudez relies on her middle school diaries to document life as a preteen in New York City during and shortly after the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001. Seventh grader Alyssa longs to be popular, frets about pimples, tries to attract the attention of her crush Alejandro, and strives for high grades so she can be accepted into a good Catholic high school and avoid disappointing her parents. Her family life causes her anxiety—her Puerto Rican father and her white mother are divorced and are reluctant to give her the social freedom she so desperately desires. Feeling torn between two homes and lives, she struggles to see herself as “fully” Puerto Rican or white, turning to drawing in her diary as an escape. Alyssa’s life takes a turn in eighth grade, when the World Trade Center towers are attacked. Confused and scared, she suddenly faces an uncertain future. In her author’s note, Bermudez mentions that she never wrote about 9/11 in her real diary at the time—she didn’t process the events until she was an adult, and the tenderness of that experience is evident in her graphic memoir. Bermudez’s illustrations are heartfelt and youthful, emphasizing her innocence and transition into young adulthood post-9/11. Stylized like funky doodles, illustrations rendered in shades of blue will appeal to younger readers without taking away from the serious undercurrent of the book.
VERDICT Educators seeking firsthand accounts of 9/11 will want to share this with their students, while middle graders looking for an engrossing graphic novel in the vein of Raina Telgemeier’s or Shannon Hale’s work will be pleased.

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