Monday, September 12, 2016

Hijacked! Girl On A Plane by Miriam Moss

The plane's roar fills my head.

The man's eyes are wild. The gun in his hand shakes. "Sit in your seats," he screams.

It can't be real.... I shrink down and stare at my hands in my lap. If the gun goes off, we'll all be sucked out. Oh, my God!

The intercom crackles: "Ladies and gentlemen, this is Captain Gregory. We've been hijacked by the Palestinian Front for the Liberation of Palestine.
It is very important that we remain calm and obey these people. Please stay in your seats."

The boys on either side of me are barely breathing. I look down at my maroon shoes, the one Marni bought me yesterday. I am going to die in them.

Anna's father is a civilian employee of the British Army, stationed in Bahrain for several years, and fifteen-year-old Anna is returning for her second year in an English boarding school. The family knows that one plane has been blown up in the air already by the PFLP, and the chance of hijacking is not far from their minds. But now Anna finds herself living out their worst nightmare.

The plane full of terrified civilians lands safely, first in Beirut, where they get jet fuel but no food or water, and they then fly on to land on a sandy airstrip surrounded by low rocky mountains, mountains that will be her only view as they all wait for four days, the plane wired with explosives, while negotiations go on over a PFLP captive held by Britain. Anna helps the stewardess Rosemary go through the trays from their last meal, looking for unopened food and liquids, but after one scant meal, the passengers endure days in the broiling sun with temperatures over 110 degrees and freezing desert nights, the toilets overflowing, and a single piece of bread and half a cup of water from their captors for daily rations. The whole thing is all too real and yet incomprehensible.

Jamal leans against the galley. He's staring down the aisle.
I can't get my head around it. He seems so normal, quite nice, and yet he's prepared to kill us all.

Anna has no one to talk to but the two boys in her row of seats, seventeen-year-old David and little Tim, clutching a tin with his pet turtle, both of them also returning to school in England. Over time the three grow close as they whisper their fears and hopes to each other.  At one point the passengers are taken at gunpoint and made to pose for photos which the hijackers hope will put pressure on the British government to release their leader. The time passes slowly but all too soon it comes down to the morning of the last day, with the terrorists vowing to blow up the plane at noon if their demands are not met.

Anna's thoughts race between imagining how her dad and mother Marni must feel and contemplating the unthinkable--that she may not live beyond that moment.

Miriam Moss' Girl on a Plane (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2016) rings frighteningly true because it is her own true account, lightly fictionalized in the case of the minor characters, but basically her experience as a hostage in 1970. Even the sympathetic character of Jamal, whose farmhouse was set afire and whose parents were shot as they ran from it before his eyes, is a composite of several of her hijackers as he voices the moral dilemma at the root their situation.

Jamal drips his head. "I'm sorry you are here. But we were driven out with nothing, no family, no home, no education.... Nothing. Tell me, what would you do?"

Anna can't answer Jamal's question.

Moss' first person narrative is gripping, with a young teen facing death in an event totally beyond her control, a believable situation that feels all too possible these days and one that will keep readers spellbound and turning the pages as the tension builds to its not-so-certain resolution. A riveting read, an insight into recent history, and a good choice for a novel study which will doubtless inspire memorable classroom discussion.

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