Wednesday, January 11, 2012

JBA Post #1: Ninth Ward, Jewell Parker Rhodes

I was really excited when I found this book. I knew from the title and the cover art that it was going to be about Hurricane Katrina and New Orleans. This is a topic that always fascinates me, because I lived outside of New Orleans when Katrina hit. I've read lots of books - both fiction and non-fiction - about the storm, but I'd never read a YA novel about it before.

The novel is about a girl, Lanesha, who lives with her pseudo-grandmother, Mama YaYa. They live in the ninth ward of New Orleans, which is a historically poverty-stricken area of the city. They experience Hurricane Katrina from their home in the ninth ward.

Unfortunately, I was disappointed in the novel. After living in New Orleans, I learned a lot about the way things are there, and was captured by its charm and flair. However, the novel did not do these things justice. It rushed through things and didn't provide enough detail to make a real New Orleans novel. Also, Mama YaYa is set up as such a uniquely New Orleanian character - she believes in ghosts, she practices voodoo, etc. - but I don't think the author developed her fully enough. I kept wanting more.  Also, I felt like there were quite a few inconsistencies in the novel. The cover says that Lanesha is from a "tight-knit ninth ward neighborhood", but then the author goes on to describe her and her grandmother as almost friendless; outcasts in the neighborhood.

The novel wasn't all bad...I found a quote that I really liked. It says, "What is it that  makes laughter feel so good? I think I must remember this moment. When I am in trouble again, when life surprises me, I should laugh." Overall, though, I had really high hopes for this novel, but it just did not meet my expectations. Maybe it's because I already know too much about New Orleans and Katrina? It might appeal more to someone who's just learning about the area.

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