Title: Hope and Other Punch Lines
Author: Julie Buxbaum
Date published: May 7, 2019
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?
If I had to pick one word to describe my reaction to this book, it would be “unexpected,” because honestly, I was not expecting to like this book as much as I did. I hate to say it because it sounds insensitive, but I was not down for or interested in reading a book about 9/11. 9/11 is such an important and life-altering event in the United States, but honestly, I was never much effected by it, and besides that, living through it in general made me a lot less keen to consume more media about it, even if that media was fictional. Honestly, if this book had not been written by Julie Buxbaum, whose debut, TELL ME THREE THINGS, I adored, I probably wouldn’t have looked at it twice.
This book definitely taught me a lot I didn’t know about the aftermath of 9/11. When it happened, I was in second grade and living far enough away from the event that I didn’t even know anyone who’d been directly affected by it, so honestly, other than the resulting increase in racism towards Muslims, I didn’t think much about the effects. Before reading this book, I knew nothing about the World Trade Center cough or all the resulting health problems, and had no idea how it affected the communities that lost so many people. This book made me realize that maybe I was being a little naive and insensitive not to think about how deeply 9/11 affected people, not just on a political level, but a personal level.
Outside of learning a lot, HOPE AND OTHER PUNCH LINES was also just a really well-crafted story. I was especially impressed with how vivid Julie Buxbaum made the world of the Baby Hope photo, which, even though it was a fictional photo, I could totally see happening and being taken in the real world. Buxbaum did a great job portraying how the photo influenced Abbi’s life, but also showing how Abbi was a separate person from the Baby Hope photo. She really emphasized that Abbi was not just a symbol and was a real person, both in Abbi’s narration and in how Noah’s thoughts and feelings about her changed as he got to know her outside of being famous for the Baby Hope photo.
I also really appreciated all of the portrayals of the different friendships in the book. I especially loved Noah’s friendship with his best friend, Jack. Jack was so charming and he also told Noah when he was being a lot and being ridiculous, and we all need friends like that. I liked watching Abbi become better friends with Julia, another counselor at the camp where they all work, and putting that in comparison with her ex-friendship with Cat. I was impressed at how well Buxbaum depicted Abbi and Cat growing apart even though it didn’t happen in the part of Abbi’s story that was in the book, and how we really got to know how deep their friendship was and what the complications were.
Something else I liked was the way Julie Buxbaum wrote about how 9/11 affected all of the characters, both the main two and their parents, as well as all the people in the Baby Hope photo who were interviewed. No two stories were alike, and some were more harrowing and heartbreaking than others, but other characters tried to find positivity, and even humor in the situation. Noah spends a lot of the book trying to come up with the perfect 9/11 joke (he wants to be a stand-up comedian; he’s not a heartless jerk), and I felt like that really went with the message of the book of trying to find what works for each individual to put themselves back together after tragedy.
Basically, this book ended up far exceeding the meager expectations I had for it, and I’m a little embarrassed that I expected so little of it just because of the topic of the book. After reading HOPE AND OTHER PUNCH LINES, I will never doubt another Julie Buxbaum book, and may have to go back and read my ARC of WHAT TO SAY NEXT before I go through withdrawal while waiting for her to announce another book. Julie Buxbaum is a criminally underrated YA author, and I hope that people will start discovering her more soon because she is definitely someone to watch out for.