On Friday, September 7, 2001, Claire, Peter, and Jasper all attend a mutual friend’s party. Claire and Peter are acquaintances who are seniors at a New York City high school. Jasper is a college freshman, just wrapping up his summer at home. Peter and Jasper have a fun night together, and plan a date for the following Tuesday. Then Tuesday happens – 9/11 – and everything changes. Love is the Higher Law is a book about the After. About how nothing was the same after the towers fell, about how these three teens changed drastically having seen the tragedy play out in their backyard. And about how no matter how devastating something might seem, there is always love to be found. Because love really is the higher law.
I’m actually surprised that I haven’t read too many books that deal with 9/11. The only other one that comes to mind is Jonathan Safran Foer’s Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close. I wasn’t intending to read a book about September 11 when I picked this one up – I saw that it featured a relationship between two teen boys and decided to read it for the GLBT challenge. But, I’m telling you, I got so much more from this book than I was expecting. It kind of took my breath away.
What got me about Love is the Higher Law was the raw emotion. Everyone remembers exactly where they were on 9/11/01, and for Claire, Jasper, and Peter, they were right in the city as the terrifying event was taking place. Reading about these characters’ experiences really hit home for me because I was their age on 9/11. I was a high school senior, I was sitting in class when the first plane hit, and I remember so vividly the million emotions that were going through my head at the time. And I was all the way in Chicago, far away from the physical danger of it all. To even imagine being in New York City, in high school no less, as the towers fell, well the idea of that just sends shivers through me. The way these three characters dealt with the disaster and the emotional rollercoaster that came after it really brought up memories of my own experiences surrounding 9/11.
Levithan truly captured the essence of New York City post-9/11. I’ve never even been to New York, but through his words I felt transported there. I could feel the sidewalk below my feet, I could smell the smoke in the air, I could see the tears on the faces of New Yorkers. It was such a surreal experience, reading this book. I absolutely love when an author can create a sense of a place this well, and in this case it was a heartbreaking sense of place, but amazing just the same. I felt like I was right there with Claire, Jasper, and Peter, as they experienced the city.
The relationships between the characters, especially the on/off relationship between Jasper and Peter, were very well-written, but honestly they kind of took a backseat to each characters’ relationship with New York City. The city and the tragedy that befell it meant different things to each of the three of them – and experiencing it through their eyes was such an experience.
I know that I haven’t done this book justice, because I really, really loved it, and I’m not too good at expressing that love properly. I highly recommend picking it up. Love is the Higher Law is a book that I know will stick with me for a long, long time.