Littman, Sarah Darer. (2010). Life, After. New York: Scholastic Press.
282 pages. ISBN: 978-0-545-15144-3 (HC)/ 978-0-545-15145-0(PB)
On July 18, 1994, Daniela Bensimon turned seven and her world was turned upside-down. The terrorist bombing of the Jewish Community Center in Buenos Aires devastated her family and country. This novel, from Sarah Darer Littman, author of Confessions of a Closet Catholic (Dutton Juvenile, 2005), follows Dani’s Life, After the tragedy. A few years after the bombing, the economic crisis takes her father’s business, he spirals into depression and Dani, her mother, and younger sister Sarita are forced to struggle through, without accepting the charity her father so despises. To make things worse, her friends are all emigrating to escape the Crisis. She feels alone and helpless and wants her Papá from Before back.
Her family decides to immigrate to New York City and start a new life. But Dani is lonely here too. By night living in a tiny “hovel” of an apartment where she tiptoes around her father’s depression and rage,and by day in a massive school where she doesn’t know the language and feels lost and bullied, she longs for a place of peace. At least she can communicate with her boyfriend on the Library computers But she comes to realise that her new world is full of unexpected joys: new friends at school, a new love interest, and a ‘mean girl’ who turns out to be just as affected by terrorism as Dani.
Dani’s first person voice rings true, though she and other characters show a wisdom beyond their years, but entirely consistent with their life experience. Littman seamlessly weaves the events of Dani’s childhood in Argentina and her Jewishness into the narrative. She also peppers the text with Spanish in a realistic portrayal of learning a second language. The books also includes emails, IM chats, and letters which give voice to other characters and add layers to the plot and character development. There are enough universal themes here to keep most students engaged, though those with experience immigrating, learning another language, moving to a new school, living with depression, or coping with tragedy will make more connections. It is a solid YA novel, not just a niche story about the Argentinian Jewish experience and families of 9/11 victims.
Recommended for grades 8-12.