Top positive review
Reviewed in the United States on March 4, 2020
A friend of mine showed me the cover of this book and we promptly laughed about why there was a kid's book out there about a dog running away from the World Trade Center, but then I thought about it a little more, figured "why not," and I, a 25 year old man, bought a copy to read while eating dinner.
I was very surprised, and now I understand.
The idea of the Ranger in Time series is to present children with an account of some of history's disasters and conflicts in a way which children can relate to, and, if this book is anything to go off of, not pull any punches. By setting a story in the perspective of a person actually within a historic event, it makes a much bigger impact than just statistics and detached narration. To further this idea, the end of the book features a rather lengthy author's note with photos of the events (nothing grim, mostly the memorial) accompanying nonfiction information about the attacks, further reading, and sources. Messner wants kids to learn as much if not more than she wants to entertain.
A time-traveling dog seems kinda silly, but in this book, at least, it's more-or-less a way to segway into the actual disaster while keeping the story cohesive in a series. And believe me, it doesn't waste ANY time getting to the disaster.
Spoiler warnings ahead, if you care.
The first chapter follows two youths accompanying their mother in the North Tower, filled with whimsy, wonder, and lines like "Today is going to be amazing!" And by page 7, the chapter ends with the kids watching the plane fly straight towards the North Tower.
I audibly laughed, then reread that part three times trying to time it to Roundabout by Yes ("TO BE CONTINUED").
Then chapter 2 comes around and it's more-or-less just some setup for Ranger's character. We learn that he's flunked his test to be a rescue dog, he has a family who loves him, and somehow he has a magic(?) first-aid kit that vibrates to send him back to a point in time to help some random people.
(Before you call "plot holes" for why the time-traveling dog didn't just prevent the 9/11 attacks in the first place, there's actually a very rudimentary and complex explanation: Ranger is a dog.)
From this point on, pretty much no levity is spared other than momentary respites between the children and Ranger escaping the attack site with the former constantly worrying about the girl's mother, still in the tower. In a morbid way, I can appreciate this. Contrary to the maxim, I like to judge a book by its cover (to an extent) - if I see a book with birds on it titled "to Kill a Mockingbird," I want a YA thriller about birds. If I see a book with a dog and a girl with the title "Escape from the Twin Towers," I want to see a girl and a dog experience 9/11... That came out wrong, but you know what I mean. It doesn't linger any longer than it needs to before getting to the point.
You know why this review is so long and detailed? It's because that type of brevity on such a serious subject as 9/11 in a kid's book deserves respect. It doesn't spend too much time doing something as tasteless as building up the imminent attacks more than one chapter since anything more would be disrespectful, not treating the attack itself as some kind of plot element, but instead as the central point.
Following the third chapter, the girl on the cover and a boy evacuate with Ranger down to an underground mall under the complex, which gets blasted by smoke from what we later find out to be the South Tower's collapse. The boy almost faints/dies from an asthma attack, and the kids and dog come out just in time to hide from the debris kicked up by the North Tower's collapse, still not knowing where their mother is. So, the two of them run to the ruins, joining all of the mourners and trying to find their mother.
As the children are evacuated to the harbor, Ranger goes out to the rubble to try to search for the girl's mother. He joins some of the search dogs, and uses the promised search-and-training skills to try to find... corpses. Enough corpses that he starts to feel dispirited at finding people he "wasn't able to help." I'm not joking - I told you that this book doesn't pull any punches. The only real morbid part of it all is whenever one of the firefighters refers to the first body found as "remains," but. . . daaaaaamn. I was honestly expecting the book to tiptoe around actual death, but for the sake of presenting the disaster in an honest way, Ranger finds a few bodies before finding the girl's mother (alive). In a teary-eyed reunion, Ranger looks at his magic first-aid-kit, and returns home with a scarf the girl gave him.
I think that's a good summary of why I cared enough about a children's book to spend the last hour and a half writing a much too long review of it on Amazon that nobody's going to read because of said length - Messner cares about presenting the 9/11 disasters in an honest light. Some might take offense to that, as if the subject of "death" and "conflict" are some taboo to be shunned from kids, but anyone who earnestly thinks that honestly doesn't know what they're talking about. Children, by the time they read this book, will know the concept of "death." Death as a story element can be presented to children, but it requires tact, treating it without any celebration or needless gore. Anything less would be talking down to them, anything more would be disrespecting the subject.
Notice how I've been using that word a lot: "Respect." "Respect" for how this book treats the subject of 9/11, "respect" this book has for children not to hide the reality that people died on 9/11, "respect" the author went into for researching the subject.
...And I respect this book enough to write pretty much a novel in itself reviewing it.