book review: Ninth Ward

book review:  Ninth Ward
author: Jewell Parker Rhodes
publisher: Little, Brown Books for Young Readers; August 16, 2010
main character: Lanesha
middle grade fiction

synopsis: Abandoned by her peers because of her ability to see spirits, Lanesha longs for connection despite the strong love of her adopted grandmother, Mama Ya-Ya. As hurricane Katrina approaches and her neighbours flee, Lanesha must stay and brace for a storm of epic proportions. As the levees break, Lanesha must find a way to survive the floods on her own…
Hardcover, 160 pages
Published August 16th 2010 by Little, Brown Books for Young Readers
0316043079 (ISBN13: 9780316043076)
source: Goodreads

Deciding to write about such a devastating event in a fiction for children could not have been easy. How do you combine so many levels of a catastrophe and make it something middle grade children can digest?  And how do you write as if you don’t know the outcome? You tell the story through a child in the ninth ward, someone who will feel the full impact of the event and you make her resilient. LaNesha lives with Mama Ya Ya, an elderly woman raising LaNesha on a fixed income. Although LaNesha thinks she has no friends, she has mama YaYa and a mystical support system so fitting a story in New Orleans.
I’m finding that in writing middle grade fictions, authors can use the limited story devices to either create a snugly built, tight story or they can create a snug story with words that become the base for imaginations to grow. The Ninth Ward is the latter.
I grab the Encyclopedia Britannica. Volume B.

Mama Ya Ya paid $3 a week for three years until she’d paid for the entire encyclopedia set. It was my best present ever. The books have their own special shelf. The only other book on the shelf is Mama Ya Ya’s Bible. She reads it over and over again, and tells me its stories. I like the story of David beating the giant, Goliath. Of baby Moses being rescued from the water.
Atop the bookshelf is a picture of Mama Ya Ya holding my hand when I was two. I look different now. Mama Ya Ya looks the same, wise and beautiful.
I sit on the floor, opening the huge book. The cover is getting worn, but that insides are just fine. Like Mama Ya Ya, the words and pictures keep teaching me.
As it gets darker and darker outside, I ignore the TV and read about bridges, famous builders, and the engineers who imagined the mathematical symbols and signs that people can’t see. I wonder how something that starts off so invisible turns into metal, bolts and wires, connecting point A to point B.

I enjoyed the foreshadowing that allowed me to expect something bad to happen while also letting me know that whatever happened, things would still manage to work themselves out; that we were witnessing the cycle of life. I didn’t care for the vocabulary lessons because I thought they were distracting. While these lessons didn’t work for me, I did enjoy learning about bridges with Lanesha.
Through the story’s characters we come to understand why so many people stayed put before the storm came. Neighbors discuss the information they have about the imminent storm, their own support systems and how serious they expect this to be.  Symbols and bridges are themes throughout the story.
awards and recognitions:
disclosure: I purchased this book for my personal library.

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