New Book Puts Young Readers in a Hijacking

Submitted 2 years ago
Created by
Katharine Britton

GIRL ON A PLANE, By Miriam Moss

It is 1970, and Anna, our protagonist, is headed back to boarding school in England from her parents’ home in Bahrain. Author Miriam Moss alerts readers that hijackings at that time are common. Sure enough, soon after take off (both the plane’s and the story’s) Palestinians overtake Anna’s plane and force it to land in the Jordanian desert. The hijackers demand the release of a Palestinian being held prisoner by the British. If their demand is not met, they will kill the hostages. Moss inserts just enough politics of the time to inform modern-day readers.

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Moss is the right person to tell this tale as she experienced just such a situation when she was fifteen-years old. Since Moss lived to write this novel, her ordeal clearly had a happy ending, at least for her. So how does an author build tension when readers know how the story turns out?

Moss focuses on Anna’s journey rather than the outcome. She highlights the discomfort and deprivation of life onboard as the passengers bake all day under the Jordanian sun and then, after the sun has set, freeze all night. The hijackers deny passengers access to their luggage and provide them no food or water. They must survive on the meager supplies on board and have only the tiny washroom (soon over matched for its intended purpose) as the only place to get a moment’s privacy. Boredom is the passengers’ constant companion. Space is limited, conditions dire, the clock ticking.

As they await word from England, heavily armed hijackers stand guard; they strap explosives to the wheels of the plane, tanks arrive. So does the media. Does this mean the hostages will be set free? Or will they do what the media does during times of conflict: record the event and leave? Cell phones and the Internet are many years in the future, so Anna has no way of notifying her parents or knowing if they’re aware of her situation.

Moss provides plenty of fun details, such as the tiny armrest ashtrays, and the copious amount of smoking that takes place on board that will amuse older readers and possibly bemuse younger ones. Also fun is the description of the airplane meal served on its plastic tray before the hijacking takes place.

Wisely, Moss equips Anna with three charming travel companions: David, Anna’s age; Tim, a few years younger; and Fred, Tim’s terrapin. There are plenty of adults on board as well, some that behave with astonishing resilience and serve as good role models and others (who imbibe a bit too much of the plane’s supply of duty-free alcohol) who collapse under the pressure and do not. Short chapters keep the story clipping along.

Moss humanizes the hijackers through Jamal, the youngest, who reaches out to Anna. “When you are dispossessed of everything else, your body is all you have left to fight with,” he tells her. Toward the end of her ordeal, Anna comes to realize that these terrifying hijackers are “... just men, somebody’s brother, somebody’s father, someone’s uncle.”

Moss inserts a few chapters from Anna’s mother’s point of view. Switching from Anna’s first person narration to these third-person chapters detracts from the story and these chapters seem superfluous. She chose to tell GIRL ON A PLANE in present tense. Given that we know, more or less, how the story will end, this seems like an unnecessary device. Until the final chapter when the hostages are released. Now present tense adds just the right degree of tension and uncertainty.

Moss includes an epilogue about her return to the site many years later, which some readers, especially ones, will find the most moving scene in the book.

Sadly, this type of hostage situation might seem pale to readers in today’s terrorist-ridden world. But Moss makes it clear that living through such an incident leaves a lasting impression and delivers a highly engaging and informative tale. 

Genres: Grades 7 and up

GIRL ON A PLANE is available at the Norwich Bookstore and wherever books are sold.

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