I've been waiting for a great book about a child's experience during Hurricane Katrina and I think I've found it with Jewell Parker Rhodes' Ninth Ward. It's an emotional book for sure, but with the heartbreak and fear geared towards middle graders.
Our main character is 12-year-old Lanesha, a girl who has already seen her fair share of heart. Her mother died giving birth to her and she now lives in poverty with midwife, Mama Ya-Ya, who has the gift of seeing the future. Lanesha loves living with Mama Ya-Ya, though her life at school is anything but easy, and also possesses a spiritual gift. Lanesha is able to see ghosts...including the ghost of her mother.
When Mama Ya-Ya gets the sense that something terrible is about to happen in New Orleans, the tension in the book is very apparent. We, as readers, know the outcome of Katrina, but when reading the book you can get a sense for how those living in New Orleans and the other hard-hit areas were feeling, as they prepped for the unknown.
I loved Lanesha's character and her motivation to get out into the world and be something. Though she struggled with making friends, she didn't let that or her limited means get her down, making her a positive role model for young readers. She is a strong female character, that still feels insecure at times, and scared at the impending storm. She doesn't want to be alone in the world, yet knows she can make it at the same time. I was very impressed with her overall character.
I did feel that the added element of Lanesha being able to see ghosts was not necessary to the storyline. Mama Ya-Ya had psychic abilities and the presence of Lanesha's "sight" seemed a bit of an overkill on that part of the plot. Though the writing was fantastic and I loved the story, I would have preferred just reading about Lanesha's manner of dealing with the tension and preparation (and subsequent disaster) of Katrina.
Overall rating: 4 out of 5
Al Roker has chosen Ninth Ward as his next "Today Show Book Club" pick. Awesome!
Jewell Parker Rhodes
Review copy received from publisher
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