When You Were Older is the moving tale of two brothers set pre and post-9/11.
Russell Ammiano is living the dream in New York City. He has a great job working for an advertising company in the Twin Towers. On the 11th of September he is doing his best to get out of the door for an important work meeting when the phone rings with news of his mother’s death. Soon after that, he watches the planes crash into the Twin Towers, bringing destruction and despair not just to the city, but to the world.
He hitchhikes his way to Kansas where he finds his mentally disabled brother, Ben. Ben, a creature of habit, we learn is mentally disabled because of an incident when he and Russell were teenagers. Their dad had taken them out fishing, gotten drunk, and one thing led to another. Their dad drowned and Ben transformed from a manipulative bully to a simple creature of habit, who does not currently understand why his mother is not coming home.
Russell finds it very difficult adjusting to life in Kansas when he tried so desperately to leave in the first place. Apparently he had not been to Kansas in six years, leaving his mother to cope with Ben on her own. The one bright spot in Russell’s life comes in the form of a young Egyptian woman, Anat, who works in her father’s bakery. They try to start a relationship, but issues of culture and faith brings a lot of strain, not to mention that the bakery is being targeted by vandals in the wake of 9/11.
The story is well-paced and plotted, with regular flashbacks to inform the reader about Ben, his and Russell’s relationships, and just why Russell did not want to come back. The characters are well-fleshed out and Catherine Ryan Hyde deals well with the sensitive issues she brings up; culture, faith, disabilities, and facing everyday problems.
It was an enjoyable read with a nice, happy ending. It’s the sort of book you can read easily in just a couple of sittings, but probably not one that I feel compelled to take up again.
Until next time!