We Are All That's Left

Book review by
Amanda Nojadera, Common Sense Media
We Are All That's Left Book Poster Image
Powerful, heartrending tale tackles faith, war, violence.

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A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this book.

Educational Value

Teens will learn about the Bosnian War, Bosnian culture, different religions, and photography terms. A glossary at the back of the book defines the Bosnian and Haitian Creole words that are sprinkled throughout the text. 

Positive Messages

Strong messages about the power of love, resilience, courage, forgiveness, and empathy. Healing is possible, but it may take time. Never lose hope because beauty can come from tragedy and love will always overcome hatred.

Positive Role Models & Representations

Both Zara and Nadja are strong, brave, courageous, and resilient survivors. Their story provides hope to those who may be in similar situations. Joseph tries to help Zara find the answers to her questions about faith, religion, guilt, and suffering. Mr. Singh encourages Zara to continue pursuing her passion as a way for her to cope with this traumatic experience.

Violence

We Are All That's Left's violent incidents are many and graphic: deaths by shooting, sliced throats, bomb explosions; dismembered bodies; severe beatings; thoughts of suicide; attempted rape. This author does not shy away from detailed descriptions of blood, wounds, death, and fear.

Sex

Couples kiss. One mention of a couple having sex, not described graphically.

Language

Strong language includes uses of "s--t," "f--k," "bastard," and "crap."

Consumerism
Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

Characters drink and smoke cigarettes, especially in the chapters set during the Bosnian War.

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that We Are All That's Left is told in chapters that alternate between present day Rhode Island and Bosnia and Herzegovina during the Bosnian War. The violent incidents are many and graphic: deaths by shooting, sliced throats, bomb explosions; dismembered bodies; severe beatings; thoughts of suicide; attempted rape. Author Carrie Arcos does not shy from detailed descriptions of blood, wounds, death, and fear. Bosnian and Haitian Creole words are defined in a glossary at the back of the book. Strong language includes uses of "s--t" and "f--k." Characters drink and smoke cigarettes, especially in the chapters set during the Bosnian War. Although the violence might be too much for sensitive readers, there are several important messages about the power of love, forgiveness, resilience, and empathy.

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What's the story?

Alternating between present day Rhode Island and Bosnia and Herzegovina during the Bosnian War, WE ARE ALL THAT'S LEFT tells the story of Zara and her mom, Nadja, who have never had the ideal mother-daughter relationship. Zara doesn't understand why her mom won't support her passion for photography. And she definitely doesn't understand why her mom refuses to talk about what it was like growing up in Bosnia. But their lives are forever changed when a bomb explodes while they're at a farmers' market, leaving Nadja in a coma and Zara with PTSD. As Zara struggles to deal with the aftermath of this traumatic event, she isn't sure if she'll have the chance to bond with her mom and also starts to have questions about faith, religion, guilt, and suffering. The more she learns about her mom's past in Bosnia the more Zara realizes how much she's like her mom and how they can help each other heal.

Is it any good?

This is a powerful and inspiring story about empathy, forgiveness, resilience, and love. Although there are many graphic descriptions of violence in We Are All That's Left, author Carrie Arcos carefully tackles heavy topics such as war, genocide, terrorism, and PTSD while raising thought-provoking questions about faith, religion, guilt, and suffering. Zara's struggle to cope with the aftermath of the fictional terrorist attack is poignant, but the most heartrending moments are when readers get a glimpse of Nadja's traumatic past in Bosnia. As Zara continues to learn more about her mom, they slowly begin to help each other heal, which shows teens that beauty can come from tragedy and that love will always overcome hatred.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about the horrors of war as depicted in We Are All That's Left. Is the violence necessary to tell the story? If so, why? Is historically accurate violence different from completely fictional violence?

  • How do current events contribute to teens' mental health? Do you experience anxiety, depression, or fear due to what's reported in the news? What resources are available to help you cope?

  • How do the characters demonstrate empathy? Why is this an important character strength?

Book details

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