Tuesday, September 13, 2016


Tom Rinaldi's The Red Bandanna is ample evidence that compelling stories remain to be told fifteen years after September 11, 2001. Following the attacks, survivors mentioned a man wearing a red bandanna who repeatedly led others to safety only to go back up into the inferno. They didn't know who he was, only that he saved their lives. One woman read about that man and knew she had found her son.

This remarkable story of selflessness is that of 24-year-old Welles Crowther, who dreamed of being a firefighter and carried that bandanna every day since he was 7. It is a story about what defines September 11--acts of compassion, sacrifice and heroism. It is the story of an extraordinary young man, those he left behind and the lives he saved, now forever bound by the man in the red bandanna.

During President Obama's speech at the 2014 memorial museum dedication, he shared a story of heroism and mentioned one name. That name was Welles Crowther. Reading Welles' story reminds us to bear witness, that in times of tragedy, heroes are among us, and perhaps even inside us.

Rinaldi, a reporter for ESPN, writes in a straightforward manner which feels rather staid for the first portion of the book. But as the story shifts to 9/11 and beyond, that tone is perfect, allowing the facts to communicate the drama without becoming overwrought. Grab a blanket, you're going to suffer more than one case of the chills as you work through this one.

STREET SENSE:  It's the emotion Rinaldi evokes that makes this a recommended read. And while one could argue any story of 9/11 would be evocative, a great story still needs a great teller with the right tone. Stick through the first half of background, the payoff is well worth it.

A FAVORITE PASSAGE:  Young sat for what she believed was ten minutes, perhaps longer, paralyzed by fear. Then she heard a voice calling out, clear and strong. Instantly she turned toward the sound. "I found the stairs," the voice said. "Follow me. Only help the ones that you can help. And follow me."

COVER NERD SAYS:  I've never been a huge fan of the bandanna. If I hadn't known what this book was about, hadn't seen the subtitle (A life. A choice. A legacy.) I might have passed it by altogether. Perhaps if I was really perusing the bookstore shelves or tables the title might have intrigued me, but it wouldn't have been in the first group of books I went for. Now that I've read it, of course, the cover couldn't be anything else. I'm glad I didn't pass this one by.

A version of this review previously ran in Shelf Awareness and appears here with permission.

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About Malcolm Avenue Review

I was lucky enough to be born and raised in a nifty, oak-shaded ranch house on Malcolm Avenue, a wide-laned residential street with little through traffic, located amid the foothills of Northern California. It was on that street and in that house I learned most of my adolescent life lessons, and many grown-up ones to boot. Malcolm Avenue was "home" for more than thirty years.

It was on Malcolm Avenue, through and with my family and the other families that made up our neighborhood of characters, that I first learned about and gained an appreciation for the things I continue to love the most to this day: music, animals, photography, sports, television/movies and, of course, books.

I owe a debt of gratitude to that life on Malcolm Avenue. It gave me a sense of community and friendship, support and adventure. For better and worse, life on that street likely had the biggest impact on the person I've become. So this blog, and the things I write here, are all, at their base level, a little bit of a love letter to Malcolm Avenue.


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