Friday, September 7, 2012

Ninth Ward by Jewel Parker Rhodes

Ninth Ward
By Jewel Parker Rhodes
Published by Sanval, 2010
217 pages (hardcover)

Twelve-year-old Lanesha is a young girl living in the Ninth Ward of New Orleans. Rejected by her peers because of her ability to see spirits, Lanesha longs for connection. The one true light in her life is her elderly but fiercely loving caretaker, Mama Ya-Ya. When Hurricane Katrina lands and tragedy strikes, Lanesha is forced to come into her own to survive the storm.

I started this book on the 7th anniversary of Hurricane Katrina which was actually when Hurricane Issac was hitting Mississippi and Louisiana (including New Orleans). I remember when Hurricane Katrina hit. I had just started my first teaching job in a rough area Kansas City, Missouri. Soon after the hurricane, some former residents of the flooded south started attending our school. Also, because Katrina was such big news, the kitten my husband and I got a few weeks later was given the middle name of “Katrina”.

I think it all boils down to the fact that most people and places were affected by Katrina: Gas prices rose. We had family or friends who had survived (or not) the disaster. We had family or friends who went south to help with recovery. BUT most of us were not actually there. I think that is what makes Ninth Ward so moving. Jewel Parker Rhodes’ sing-song prose not only takes us through the days before and after the storm, but gives us an insight into New Orleans culture, the poverty of the area, why people didn’t/couldn’t evacuate, and how people actually survived.

Although Hurricane Katrina was a terrifying time, Rhodes does not let Ninth Ward become a tale of dread and despair. Instead, there is a forever hopeful tone of love, trust, and family that will empower readers and make everyone come to adore Lanesha and her Mama Ya-Ya. My only wish was that the book was longer so I could find out what Lanesha does in the subsequent days, weeks, months, and years.

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