Friday, October 7, 2016

The 15:17 to Paris: The True Story of a Terrorist, a Train, and Three American Heroes

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Rating: 3 Stars

This is a tough one to review, or even rate. I feel like if I give it a lower rating or speak to the disjointed flow of the narrative, then I am somehow devaluing the experience of these three young me and their actions to help stop an ISIS attack on this train and its passengers. That is not my intention at all. The story itself is captivating but the writing really just made it difficult to stick with.

I would assume that Jeffrey Stern did most of the writing despite the fact that the three young men are billed first. That is typically the case with books such as these. If Sadler, Skarlatos, and Stone had done all the writing themselves, I would be far more willing to cut these guys some slack, not being professional writers. But with the presence of Stearn, I expected better. The flow of information and the unfolding of events prior to the attack itself were simply told in a totally boring way. Then the disjointedness comes from the fact that the attack was not told in one section and was interspersed between the stories of each young man and how they met and became friends, growing up together, and eventually meeting up to travel together on that fateful day to Paris.

One thing of interest that struck me was their waffling on whether or not to actually go to Paris in the first place. While traveling, others had suggested foregoing Paris for other locations, but in the end, these men ended up on that train. And thank goodness they did. Who knows how many might have been injured or killed had this terrorist been successful. This idea of fate is an interesting one and there have been many times in my life I have acted on gut instinct to make a decision. Part of the reason is because, in high school I ignored a gut instinct and moments later was hit nearly head-on in my little 1986 Chevy Nova by a Ford Bronco running a light. I don't often ignore my instincts anymore and I am so glad these young men didn't either.

If the book does nothing else, it at least points out the glaringly obvious fact that the media in the US is totally screwed up (something we already knew, given the media's treatment of Bernie compared to Hillary throughout the primary season). I remember when this story first broke, it was all about how three US Marines on leave had thwarted a terrorist attack. That was completely inaccurate. Two of the three young men are in the military, however NONE were Marines. It just goes to show you how quickly the media will jump on a story without having all the facts. This is certainly nothing these men did wrong, but is an big indicator of how ridiculous media outlets here are.

I am really going to miss President Obama and his sense of humor once he leaves the White House. There is a point in the narrative when they are recalling their initial phone conversation with Obama and he says, "...I was just talking to Spencer and told him, like, when I have a class reunion kind of thing, we just have a beer, we don't like, tackle terrorists or anything" (page 84).

In the end, it is not a bad story, but still a poorly told one. The moving back and forth between their childhoods and the event on the train was frustrating because it made the narrative so choppy. That does not diminish the importance of the story and I feel like it is still one that needs to be told and read and applauded. The way it was told simply did not work for me.

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