Katie Wallace has never given much thought to 9/11. She was only a year old when terrorists struck American soil. But now her dad has landed in a mental institution after claiming to know what really happened. He insists the attacks were part of a government conspiracy. And he claims that Katie is living proof: the lone survivor of a massive cover-up.
Hoping to free her dad, Katie sets out to investigate his bizarre claims. Soon she’s drawn into the strange and secretive world of 9/11 conspiracy theorists known as the “Truthers”.
Wading through a dangerous web of fact and fiction, questions and distortion, Katie no longer knows what to believe. But she does know that she’s being followed — and that someone is determined to stop her search for the truth.
A novel for teens, exploring 9/11 & our conspiracy culture… (goodreads.com)
My interest was piqued with TRUTHERS, however, when I started reading I was very afraid of where the book was going to go. I have huge problems with people capitalizing on 9/11 in the form of entertainment, like fictionalized books or movies. Same goes for other big tragedies, like the BP rig explosion and that movie with Mark Wahlberg. Gross. No. You’re making money on the backs of dead people with survivors still alive to tell you exactly what happened. No.
So I was afraid because 9/11 is very close to me. I don’t like to call myself a survivor because I wasn’t downtown when it happened. I was in my dorm at 55th between 2nd and 3rd, having been dropped off eight days prior for my freshman year of college. I don’t feel like I actually survived anything being that far uptown, yet it’s such a monumental moment in my life that I’m still to this day grossly affected by it. I didn’t witness the planes crashing into the buildings or see the towers collapsing, but I can tell you how yellow the air was the next day when the wind shifted and what thousands of burning bodies and cement and steel and asbestos and office equipment smells like. How long it stuck to our hair and our clothes, how news anchors advised people to stay indoors. I can tell you it took between 7 and 8 hours to get a hold of my parents that day because cell services were jammed, pay phones were for emergency only, and no one had long distance on their dorm phones. So my parents had no idea whether I was alive or dead. I can tell you what a silent New York City feels like, what hordes of people walking across the Queensboro looked like because the island was locked down. What’s it like to walk in streets that were previously flat but were now rippled and bulging because of the underground force created by the falling towers. I can tell you what it’s like to have a fundraiser variety show for one of our friends whose dad, who didn’t work in the towers but were nearby, ran in to help people and never came out. They buried an empty coffin that November and in March his body was finally extracted from the wreckage, intact.
I know our government’s down some really shitty things, but I can’t accept that they would allow something like this to happen let alone actually orchestrated it. So I had a hard time going into this book, and I had a hard time writing what I did above, and I was afraid of what Girard was going to do. My 18-year-old self was very directly affected by 9/11 and my 34-year-old-self now is very protective of that piece of me. But I gave it a chance.
And once things started working out and cracks started to form, I stopped reading the book as if I were anticipating a hit. I waited until the very end to see how he would tie everything together just so I didn’t jump the gun and was like WHEW. TRUTHERS ended in a very satisfying place. Not one where I anticipated it ending, but a respectful place.
The basic premise is Katie’s dad has been not well for a long time and at his last breakdown before being hospitalized he drops a bomb: that we was involved in a secret conspiracy to orchestrate 9/11 and Katie is really the daughter of a woman off of Flight 93 who handed her over to him to save before the woman was carted off and murdered by the government. This is at the front of the book, and it’s a very insulting conspiracy which was why I was so apprehensive going into it. I was really hoping the book would ultimately be a comment on mental illness, which is kind of ends up being. It just takes a while for that point to develop.
So here’s the thing: conspiracies are not mathematically viable. Effectively the more people who know a secret the less amount of time that secret is going to stay a secret. That article effectively proves that based on prior real conspiracies that did come to light. The thing about covert operations is that very few people know about them. Exceedingly few. That’s to mitigate leaks. There is stuff that’s buried very deeply within the government that not even Julian Assange can get his hands on. The shit the government really doesn’t want people to know, they hide it well. Everything else . . . well, the government at large is terrible at keeping secrets, if you couldn’t already tell.
One of Katie’s contacts, a guy with the handle Benevolus522, states that people who know too much and who are deemed a threat by the government get eliminated. That’s not untrue. However the government actually needs to think you’re a threat with the information you know. Ben here’s been working on his truther crap for more than a decade and he considers himself hunkered down under hacker protection from the government and in hiding. 1) Hubris to think his tech skills are better than the government’s when it comes to spycraft. Ha. 2) By that same logic if he was actually on to anything he’d already be dead. Since he’s not, by that logic, he knows jack shit. But, you know. Truthers aren’t logical so that concept flies right out the window.
Max is a leveling factor throughout the story, poking holes in Katie’s logic the entire time and he really grounds it all out. He waters down every truther concept, picks it up and turns it around so it can be seen from the other side of the coin. He’s really the voice of reason as Katie devolves into this whole mess.
As for Katie herself, she gets points for the research she does and the time spent. The crux of this whole thing, as outlined by one of the cases she found, it to prove that the truther conspiracies are believable by people of sound judgment and mind, not just by “crazies.” And this is brought up very early on in the story so if you hang on to this notion, keep it in the back of your mind, it’ll help you carry through everything, from the cut-aways to the “men in black” talking about spying on her to the questionable scare tactic moments that arise. She’s also a vaguely inconsistent character, but that’s just one mention that really stood out: considering 9/11 ancient history, however, she quotes the movie Se7en, which is even older than that event. Literally before her time. But whatever. Small hiccup, ultimately.
There are a lot of hidden pieces in TRUTHERS that if I start talking about them they’ll just be outright spoilers. So I’ll just end it with this: it’s a book that ultimately keeps its distance. 9/11 is THE BIG THING in the book, but that’s not how it ends. Girard is respectful and ends up making various comments about the mentality around conspiracies, PTSD, mental illness, and persistence toward truth. It started off rough and ended quite well. I would recommend giving it a chance.
He puts a note at the end, before the bibliography, just commenting on the sites and books he referenced when researching the book and how it’s not an endorsement, just a research list. InfoWars is on there and it made me twitch. Ugh. Talk about conspiratorial drivel. I’m sorry he had to go there, but I think it shows the lengths to which he went in order to understand the mentality of that side of thinking and even that isn’t presented in a mocking way in the book, but just as another way of thinking without being disrespectful to those directly affected by 9/11.
So if you’re looking at the blurb and you’re skeptical in a way that I was, give TRUTHERS a chance. You might be surprised.
I received a copy of this book from the publisher through NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.