Ambassador of Books ~ Book Club Madam ~ Blogger Gal

Monday, September 20, 2010

American Widow

by Alissa Torres
illustrated by Sungyoon Choi
224 pages

*** About the Book ***
American Widow

On Sept. 10, 2001 Eddie Torres went to work for the first time at the World Trade Center in New York City.  That evening he and his wife, Alissa, who was 7 months pregnant, had a fight, and they went to bed angry with each other.  The next morning he headed off to his second day of work.  Just a few hours after leaving the house he was killed when terrorist attacks caused the the Twin Towers to collapse.  Alissa's life was changed forever.  The next few months were a blur, filled with condolences, offers of help, deep depression, the birth of her son, and days upon days spent in bed.  Then came the mass of paperwork and unfulfilled promises of aid from the government, and feelings of anger and jealousy from friends, neighbors, and strangers.

This is the story of Alissa's life in the months after Eddie's death. It's the story of how one woman dealt with her very personal loss under the close scrutiny of the public eye.

*** Why I Read It ***

I don't know where I first heard about this but I've had the title written on a post-it note on my desk at work for over a year.  When my book club voted to do a graphic memoir month (graphic memoir rather than graphic novel) in September I knew this was the book I wanted to read.

*** My Thoughts ***

Talk about perfect timing ... I picked up this book on Sept. 9 and started reading it the next day.  I read most of it on Sept. 11 - exactly nine years after the tragedy that was 9/11/01 and the death of Alissa's husband, Eddie.

This is a very moving and personal book.  As I read it and looked at the illustrations I kept visualizing myself in Alissa's situation, or in that of her friends.  I imagined me being the one not knowing what to say, or saying the wrong thing.  It was also a very informative book. I know I heard about many of the financial and political issues surrounding the families of the 9/11 victims but reading Alissa's story made it all very personal and very clear. In addition, it is a quick read despite the large number of pages.  I was able to easily read it over three days without devoting that much time to it. (I lent it to a friend and she read it in two days.)

That said, I'm still not a huge fan of graphic novels or graphic memoirs.  Although I like the illustrations and feel that they certainly add to the story, I'm much more text-focused and I know I don't appreciate symbiosis of the text and the visuals the way I should.

For those of you who ARE graphic novel/memoir fans, I highly recommend this book. It is well worth tracking down a copy; Alissa's story is heartbreaking yet uplifting.  For those who aren't fans of graphic novels/memoirs, I'd still say the book is worth reading - just don't expect it to change your opinions about the genre.

*** Your Thoughts ***

What do you think of the recent trend toward memoirs in graphic format?  Which ones have you read?  Are you familiar with this book?


Trisha said...

I love graphic novels and graphic memoirs, but I have to admit, this one sounds a bit sad, and sad is currently on my no-read list. :)

Teacher/Learner said...

I had no idea there was such a genre as graphic memoir, but graphic novels are growing on me as I see kids, especially boys, snatch them up. I'm surprised at the format for such a sad topic. How do the illustrations support the story in graphic novel form?

Alyce said...

I've heard of this book, but I hadn't realized that it was a graphic memoir. I do like the graphic format, so I'll have to keep an eye out for it.

Jenny said...

I just recently read a review for this and added it to my graphic novel WL. I'm okay with graphic novels... don't love them but they're nice for something different now and then. But I also think I haven't read many I realllly like yet either, so I definitely want to read this one!

Elisabeth said...

It sounds like an eye opening read, I just don't think I am ready for it yet.

Heather J. said...

Trisha – It is sad, but not overwhelmingly. It was very much “slice of life” IMO.

Teacher/Learner – I’ve found that graphic memoirs are a growing genre, and that many of them tackle difficult subjects (ex. There are lots on WWII.). As I said in my review, I’m not a good judge of the symbiosis between the text and illustrations in this type of book but here’s what I did notice: the images reinforce the story and they also add to it by providing details that aren’t included in the text. And the simplicity of the illustrations kept my attention on the story rather than on the illustrator’s style or color choices. I hope that answers your question …

Alyce – Great! I hope you get a chance to read it.

Jenny – I’m glad this book is being reviewed other places. After I first heard of it a year or so ago I haven’t heard about it ever again. It’s definitely worth reading though!

Heather J. said...

Elisabeth - I can certainly understand that.

Teacher/Learner said...

Thanks Heather! It's amazing the breadth of genres available now and they are growing every year.

Trina said...

I have never even heard of graphic memoirs. Very interesting. Now, I have something else to check out! Where will I find the time?

Kim (Sophisticated Dorkiness) said...

I really love graphic memoirs, so i think I'm going to look for this one, even if it sounds like it could be pretty sad. I sometimes have a disconnect between the pictures and words too, which is why I always have to remind myself to slow down when I read graphic novels.

Heather J. said...

Trina - I know, right?!

Kim - I find myself breezing through them without really looking at the pictures, then I have to stop and go back. But still, I think this genre is a nice break from my regular reading while still keeping the non-fiction aspect that I love.

Anna said...

I've never read a graphic novel, let alone a graphic memoir. Sounds interesting, but I don't think the subject matter is something I'd want to tackle for my first book in this genre.

Heather J. said...

Anna - There are some funny graphic memoirs out there too - maybe one of those would be a better fit?

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