“I’m so, so tired of always worrying about our world splitting into a before and an after again.”
Rating: 4/5 stars
Format: Physical copy
Sometimes looking to the past helps you find your future.
Abbi Hope Goldstein is like every other teenager, with a few smallish exceptions: her famous alter ego, Baby Hope, is the subject of internet memes, she has asthma, and sometimes people spontaneously burst into tears when they recognize her. Abbi has lived almost her entire life in the shadow of the terrorist attacks of September 11. On that fateful day, she was captured in what became an iconic photograph: in the picture, Abbi (aka “Baby Hope”) wears a birthday crown and grasps a red balloon; just behind her, the South Tower of the World Trade Center is collapsing.
Now, fifteen years later, Abbi is desperate for anonymity and decides to spend the summer before her seventeenth birthday incognito as a counselor at Knights Day Camp two towns away. She’s psyched for eight weeks in the company of four-year-olds, none of whom have ever heard of Baby Hope.
Too bad Noah Stern, whose own world was irrevocably shattered on that terrible day, has a similar summer plan. Noah believes his meeting Baby Hope is fate. Abbi is sure it’s a disaster. Soon, though, the two team up to ask difficult questions about the history behind the Baby Hope photo. But is either of them ready to hear the answers.
This was my first novel I’ve read by Julie Buxbaum but it definitely will not be my last. The writing, characters (for the most part), and overall theme of the story worked so well for me. Reading books about 9/11 have become a bit of surreal experience for me. Mainly because I was old enough to remember exactly where I was when the planes hit the towers and yet not old enough to immediately understand what it would mean for the world as we knew it going forward. Hope and Other Punchlines furthered the surreal-ness for me because it takes place in New Jersey and more specifically in the towns surrounding where I grew up, so to read that in a book was a really cool but strange experience.
Abbi Goldstein, better known as Baby Hope, has become a symbol of hope after the 9/11 attacks. She was photographed on her first birthday which happens to be September 11th wearing a crown and holding a balloon as one of the towers is collapsing in the picture behind her. People all over the country have held on to this picture for years since the terror attacks making it become one of the most popular pictures in the face of the tragedy (think the real life falling man or dust woman picture), but Abbi hates the picture and everything it stands for. She just wants to live life as normal teenager and decides to become a camp counselor for the summer a few towns away where she can hopefully remain anonymous…until she meets Noah.
Noah immediately recognizes Abbi from the Baby Hope picture, but for him the picture has an entirely different meaning, it’s the last picture of his father still living. Noah is desperate for answers on what happened to his father on that fateful day and hopes to team up with Abbi and meet with the other people in the Baby Hope picture try and find some answers. One of the things that I really enjoyed is that aside from both teens are going through their own issues there are still other simple plot points that make this an enjoyable read from start to finish. It’s also about finding new friends, first love, and maybe even some potentially disastrous post 9/11 health issues all wrapped in one hopeful yet heartbreaking story.
Remember when I said I liked the characters but added the “for the most part” bit? Well, here’s why and this is also why I had to deduct a star from this. I really enjoyed everyone in this story except for Noah, which is basically half the story. Noah comes off as a toxic love interest and not only that, he blackmails Abbi into going on the interviews with him to try and get answers about his father. Blackmail never sits well with me and this time in particular it left a really sour taste in my mouth. Once that bit of the plot happened I was never able to look at Noah the same afterwards. While I do understand his desperation for answers I wish it could have been done in a nicer way.
“You really believe that? Everything happens for a reason?” I ask, because I can think of no good reason for those towers to fall, or for a kid to shoot up a middle school. Any conception of God I have doesn’t allow for that sort of unimaginable horror.
“I know better than anyone that you can’t always draw a straight line from the who you once were to the who you are now.”
“We need the serious to recognize the funny, and the funny to give us even a shot in hell at surviving the serious.”
All in all, even though the whole blackmail thing didn’t work out for me, I still did enjoy the majority of this. It’s equal parts hopeful and heartbreaking and I definitely can’t wait to read more from this author in the future.
Buddy read w/: Amanda (Classy x Book Reviews)