Summary (from the publisher):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?
My Rating: 4/5 Stars
Let’s be honest, summer contemporaries are always on my TBR radar, no matter the time of year. Me being the reader and TBR planner that I am, I of course save most of them for the summer including Julie Buxbaum’s Hope and Other Punch Lines. This was my first book by the author, sold on its summer camp premise.
While the book’s main characters Abbi and Noah are camp counselors, this book is more about 9/11 and the two’s relationship with the September 11, 2001 attacks. Known to the world as Baby Hope, Abbi was pictured in one of the most well-known 9/11 photographs. A budding comedian and journalist, Noah is hoping to do a newspaper article on the people in the Baby Hope photo, including figuring out one of their identities.
Julie Buxbaum writes in her author’s note that many of her young readers really only know about 9/11 rom their history classes. However, 9/11 is a much more familiar event for me personally. There is a 9/11 memorial in my town and college town. I live about ten minutes away from the town that lost the most amount of people outside of New York City, which Julie Buxbaum loosely based the fictional town of Oakdale from. One of my parents worked in the Towers and is a 9/11 survivor.
That being said, I have a weird relationship with fiction centered around 9/11. I knew Hope and Other Punch Lines had some sort of 9/11 element, but blame it on me for not reading the synopsis again before reading and realizing how much 9/11 is part of the story. To be honest, if I really realized how much this book is about 9/11 before then, I likely wouldn’t have picked it up.
As much as I do wish that we got a teeny bit more light-heartedness, aka Abbi and her co-counselor fawning over the hot camp lifeguard and burger dates with Noah, there is much heaviness within this story. Abbi is constantly getting recognized as Baby Hope and feels that she can never not live in the shadow of that day. She is also having some health problems that could be connected to 9/11 syndrome, which I had heard of and definitely learned more about as a result of this book.
Throughout, between Noah and Abbi’s personal connections and their interviews with survivors, Hope and Other Punch Lines provides a ton of great learning moments about 9/11, along with grief and loss. I think this book would be great for YA readers who may be part of the generation born after 9/11 and who have only learned about it as part of their history classes. I think I could have easily put this book down for the subject matter, however, I quickly fell into Julie Buxbaum’s storytelling and her character dynamics. From the main characters to their interviews with the survivors, this book felt pretty real in an all too-real situation.
There are some lighter moments (see comparing hot camp lifeguard’s abs to tacos) and plot lines, between Abbi’s parents and their weird divorce dynamic, her grandmother’s health, and her friendship ‘break-up’ with her former best friend. While his chapters were typically much shorter, Noah also had some funny jokes and comedic moments (hence the title) and trying to help his best friend Jack with through his relationship problems. Sidenote on Jack, I loved how he worked for a real East Coast grocery store chain! While I did enjoy Abbi and Noah’s relationship, I didn’t think it was totally necessary, considering how much this book is about personal growth and dealing with the past.
Overall, Hope and Other Punch Lines was a very educational read. While it is considered a summer contemporary, I would more so call it a contemporary about grief, loss and 9/11.
Have you read Hope and Other Punch Lines or any other books by Julie Buxbaum? Share in the comments!