Ninth Ward by Jewell Parker Rhodes
Earlier in the year I was so excited when I found out Jewell Parker Rhodes had a middle grade novel coming out. If the name sounds familiar its because Rhodes is an award winning author of adult fiction.
12 yr old Lanesha was born with a caul on her face. Thanks to this, Lanesha can see ghost including her mother, who died giving birth to her. Lanesha lives with Mama Ya- Ya in New Orleans, Ninth Ward. Mama Ya Ya is 82 yrs old, she's seen a lot and helped bring alot of babies into the world.
Mama Ya Ya senses the hurricane before its announced on the news. Mama Ya Ya knows something else is wrong, but she can't put her finger on what. Lanesha must prepare as best she can.
Tashon, the quiet neighbor boy, finds his way to MaMa Ya Ya's house after the hurricane. Together Lanesha and Tashon must survive the broken levies. When the water won't stop rising they end up on the top of the roof. Rhodes paints such a clear picture, I could see everything.
"I start trembling and look around my neighborhood. The horizon is none like I'd seen before. Just the tips of houses. Tops or halves of trees. Lampposts hacked off by water. Rooftops -some flat, some anglar most empty. Far left I see a man and a woman sitting on a roof their feet in the water."
Lanesha's abililty to see ghosts, adds a magical element to this story.
"Now, ghosts in baggy pants, their underwear showing, wearing short sleeve T-shirts and body tattoos, are from my time. They're mostly boys killed in drive-bys or fights or robberies. Sometimes, I know them from school. Like Jermaine. One day I'm seeing him in the cafeteria eating macaroni, the next day, he's a ghost, dull eyed, high fiving me."
Lanesha's mother's ghost can't move on, until Lanesha is safe. Though, Ninth Ward is only 207 pages, its never feels rushed. Rhodes tells a beautiful well paced story.
Many bestselling adult authors have a difficult time creating authenic middle grade voices, that was not the case here. Lanesha is smart, independent, excels at math and I loved her voice.
This is the first middle grade novel about hurricane Katrina. The ones that come behind it, will have a lot to live up to. Like Williams- Garcia's One Crazy Summer, the characters and writing felt familar. This doesn't happen often when I read middle grade fiction, when it does its refreshing. Ninth Ward is one of my favorite middle grade novels of the year.
Whenever, I read a novel with a character born with a caul, I think of The Baby of the Family by Tina McElory Ansa. Being reminded of this story added to my enjoyment of Ninth Ward.