When I heard about NINTH WARD by Jewell Parker Rhodes last year, my first thought was "Well, that's one I'll avoid ..." Here in Mississippi, our coast was devastated by Hurricane Katrina, and we live close enough (and just far away enough) to have hosted an influx of hurricane refugees, many of them from New Orleans. And, I, like the rest of the country watched the horrible spectacle of people in New Orleans trapped on bridges, on rooftops, and in the Super Dome where there were tales of human violence and inhumanity. Katrina is still an event I'm trying to make peace with.
But, I kept reading reviews about how wonderful this book was--and how it was a story of hope.
So, I read it. And, I'm glad that I did.
In NINTH WARD, a motherless young girl is being taken care of by her mother's midwife (her mother died in childbirth). Her caretaker's name is Mama Ya-Ya and she is a wonderful, magical healer true to the spirit of New Orleans voo-doo, jazz, and gumbo-style of living. The girl's neighborhood is the poverty stricken Ninth Ward, but the author shows the neighborhood as a communal place full of loving, unconventional families. When Katrina hits, the story turns toward survival, and yes, hope.
The story is beautifully written and doesn't take the young reader into the depths of horror and despair that we adults watched on the news. At its heart it is a story about connection, survival and love. It is a lovely read that I have recommended to all of my middle grade readers.
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