Friday, December 31, 2010
By Jewell Parker Rhodes Little, Brown and Co., 2010. 217 pages. Fiction.
Ninth Ward, by Jewell Parker Rhodes, is a gem of juvenile fiction. This novel is about Lanesha, a twelve-year-old girl living in New Orleans with her grandmotherly caretaker, Mama Ya-Ya. Mama Ya-Ya is a believer in visions, and is able to correctly predict the future. Lanesha has the gift of seeing and speaking to the dead- specifically her mother, who died in childbirth.
Mama Ya-Ya dreams about a big storm coming. Her dreams prophesy that something darker lies beyond the devastating hurricane. Lanesha becomes a true heroine of this story, as she cares for Mama Ya-Ya and their home during the storm. After Hurricane Katrina passes, they experience a short-lived reprieve until the prophesied dark day happens. As the levees break, the Ninth Ward floods and hundreds of people die. There are some truly heart-wrenching scenes as Lanesha experiences the dangers brought on by the hurricane and flood.
Lanesha is a powerful voice in juvenile fiction. She is an example of survival and resilience in an impossible situation. The author does an incredible job of putting the reader directly in the middle of a haunting, terrifying world. In reading this novel, one can experience New Orleans in one of the worst natural disasters of our time. The smells, sights, sounds, and tastes are as real as the emotions. Ninth Ward is easily a contender for the Newbery.