A few years back, I was browsing the children’s display at Barnes and Noble (in other words: a day that ends in y), and I noticed a book about Hurricane Katrina that had just won the Coretta Scott King Award. That book was Jewell Parker Rhodes’ Ninth Ward, and it sounded intriguing. I’ve not read a lot of fiction about Hurricane Katrina, just a collection of poetry by Katie Ford (which, by the way is excellent. Check out Colosseum if you can). I can hardly believe it’s been ten years already, but I know there’s still so much to process about what happened.
Ninth Ward takes place in the Ninth Ward of New Orleans. Our protagonist is twelve-year-old Lanesha, a smart young lady who lives with Mama Ya-Ya, a fierce and compassionate midwife. Lanesha’s mother died in childbirth at the age of 17; her blood relatives have eschewed her. Mama Ya-Ya becomes her sole family, and it is Mama Ya-Ya who encourages her to understand the visions that she has, along with the ghosts of New Orleans that haunt their neighborhood. When a storm appears on the horizon, Lanesha must gather her resources and reserves to survive the coming catastrophe ahead.
This was a beautiful, heartbreaking book. Rhodes is an excellent writer—you understand the realness of the characters, the devastation of the flooding in the Ninth Ward, and the thrill of surviving a disaster. I definitely teared up in a few spots. Lanesha is exactly the kind of character you want to root for. This book is for more than just children, for sure. I highly recommend it.