As you read the reviews on Bookshop Talk, you'll notice that every review is positive. No, we're not a bunch of literary
pushovers who love everything we pick up; we just see no point in telling you about a book if we didn't like it.

January 25, 2016

NINTH WARD by Jewell Parker Rhodes, 2010

Twelve-year-old Lanesha lives in a tight-knit community in New Orleans' Ninth Ward. She doesn't have a fancy house like her uptown family or lots of friends like the other kids on her street. But what she does have is Mama Ya-Ya, her fiercely loving caretaker, wise in the ways of the world and able to predict the future. So when Mama Ya-Ya's visions show a powerful hurricane--Katrina--fast approaching, it's up to Lanesha to call upon the hope and strength Mama Ya-Ya has given her to help them both survive the storm. (Goodreads)

Reviewed by Julie, children's literature enthusiast and pop culture geek

I'm writing this review at the end of February, as Black History Month draws to a close.  Throughout the month, I've seen several lists and blog posts that feature wonderful children's books celebrating black history.  One book that has been wrongfully missing from these lists is NINTH WARD by Jewell Parker Rhodes.

NINTH WARD can be classified as historical fiction, although the history it presents may be recent in the minds of older readers.  The story takes place during the onset of Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans, Louisiana's Ninth Ward.  Readers see the disaster through the eyes of the narrator, twelve-year-old Lanesha as she struggles to survive the flood.  Although Lanesha doesn't have much, she has her friend TaShon, her guardian Mama Ya Ya, and the ghostly apparition of her deceased mother to remind her of the strength she has.

Lanesha is one of my favorite recently-discovered characters.  She narrates her own story with beautiful, spare prose that sheds a light into her as a person: she loves math, vocabulary, and learning, and she hopes to be an architect one day.  Although she has an "uptown family" consisting of relatives that want nothing to do with her, she forms her own sense of community among her friends and guardians in Ninth Ward.  Her gift of sight, which allows her to see and speak with ghosts, gives her a special understanding of the place she was born into, including its rich past and current social and political problems.  Her voice is mature and interesting, and I enjoyed reading what felt like a very honest and balanced account of what life was like for young victims of Hurricane Katrina.

Although Black History Month is confined to February, it is important to continue reading about and celebrating these stories throughout the course of the year.  NINTH WARD is a gripping story of survival and hope featuring a fantastic main character, but it also provides an important glimpse into recent history, an event from which many people are still recovering.

Market: Middle grade/YA fiction
Violence: References to gang-related violence in protagonist's neighborhood.  One character is hurt by bullies.
Language: Mild insults, bullying language
Sensuality: None
Adult themes: Natural disasters, poverty, loss and grief

No comments: