Helaina Hovitz was twelve years old and in middle school three blocks away when the World Trade Center was attacked. Her memoir encapsulates the journey of a girl growing up with PTSD after living through the events firsthand, chronicling its effects on a young girl at the outset of adolescence and following her as she spirals into addiction and rebellion, through loss, chaos, and confusion.
The events and experiences that are now common knowledge to everyone were a very real part of Helaina’s life and are still as vivid in her memory today: the sickening thud of falling bodies hitting cars, the crumbling towers, running for her life as she tried to get home, her universe literally engulfed in a cloud. Hundreds, including Helaina, were stranded in the neighborhood, also just blocks from the towers, without phones or electricity or anyone to help. For fear of subsequent attacks, not to mention the toxic substances in the air, everyone was urged to stay inside their debris-filled apartments.
Anyone who has survived a horrific event knows that just because a body remains in motion does not mean everything will simply “go back to normal.” The chemistry of the brain and the body changes, impacting our relationships, our choices, and how we experience the world around us. Yet, we rarely find out what actually happens to people as they try to move on from a life-threatening experience—especially children, who are just beginning to develop an understanding of the world around them.
It would take Helaina more than a decade to overcome the PTSD — and subsequent alcohol addiction — that went misdiagnosed and mistreated for so many years. In many ways, After 9/11: One Girl’s Journey Through Darkness to a New Beginning is the story of a generation growing up in the aftermath of America’s darkest day. And for one young woman, it is the story of a survivor who, after witnessing the end, got to start over.
“Hovitz shows us, for the first time, what it was like for families in New York City who suddenly had to live like other war refugees, with no idea where their loved ones were or when the next attack might come. After 9/11 is a moving and remarkable testament to a time that changed our country, told beautifully by a young woman who never gave up hope that she could reclaim her life, no matter how grim things looked.”
–Sean Elder, Newsweek
“Hovitz’s memoir is distinctive and larger than her own experience. Through her engaging and beautifully crafted narrative, we see the lasting scars that have lingered on so many of us.” — Ilana Masad, Read it Forward
“Hovitz had the grit, determination and resources to pull herself out of the morass of PTSD. She has rendered a valuable service in adding her voice to the memory of this momentous interstice in world history.” — Janet Levine, New York Journal of Books
Helaina Hovitz is a journalist and editor, specializing in positive and inspiring stories. She has written for the “New York Times,” “Salon,” “The New York Observer,” “Forbes,” “Marie Claire,” “Huffington Post,” “Teen Vogue,” and “Newsday.” She is hard at work on her latest venture, a news service called Headlines for the Hopeful. She lives with her fiance and their rescue dog, Wiley.