Monday, September 15, 2014

Ninth Ward by Jewell Parker Rhodes

Ninth Ward by Jewell Parker Rhodes is a middle grades novel that takes place in the area of New Orleans that was affected most horribly by Hurricane Katrina.  Told through the first person voice of Lanesha, a twelve-year-old “orphan” who sees things others cannot, the reader experiences a few short days leading up to the day that the hurricane reaches shore and the aftermath of the levies being breached.

The novel remains true to its intended audience throughout, avoiding political statements of any kind and not overly exploring the horrors of the events.  I don’t mean to suggest that things are not horribly difficult for Lanesha and her Mama Ya-Ya, the midwife who helped deliver her and has raised her ever since.  But because both are given the gift of sight, flawed as it may be, they have a chance that others do not.  However, they also have no means of evacuating their home and are forced to ride out the storm and its aftermath as best they can.

Some parents will probably take exception to the idea of Lanesha’s ability to see ghosts or take offense at the thought of her teenaged mother giving birth to an illegitimate child.  Frankly, I find the reality of what happened to the citizens of the Ninth Ward, those Americans who were abandoned because they were too poor to buy their way to safety, far more vulgar and disturbing.  Patricia Smith has published a stunning collection of poetry which is also rooted in the circumstances that surrounded this page in American history.  I hope that books like these will continue to find themselves in the hands of those who are compassionate and unblinking when it comes to facing the past.

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