Ninth WardSpring 2010 Fiction
Lanesha is accustomed to being teased and left out of everything. After all, everyone in New Orleans' Ninth Ward knows she was born with a caul, that she talks to ghosts, and that she has grown up with Mama Ya-ya, who sees the future. Lanesha doesn't let herself mind too much; she still has her beloved school, where she can work out math problems, and she has Mama Ya-ya, who has always loved her. But when the TV newscasters begin talking about Hurricane Katrina, Lanesha begins to get worried. Mama Ya-ya is talking strangely, asking for Lanesha's support instead of the other way around. And when the waters begin rising, Lanesha realizes that she will need to band together with a couple of other outsiders in order to help as many people as possible to get out of the Ninth Ward.
To adult readers, Hurricane Katrina may not be ready to be classified as the makings of historical fiction. To preteen and teenage readers, the setting will be just old enough to feel familiar and manageable, yet just recent enough to feel important and relevant. Readers of all ages will appreciate the skill with which Rhodes uses a flood of Biblical proportions as a backdrop for a character with grace, intelligence, and foresight to develop a sense of her own dignity and strength. Lanesha's shifts between the recognizable world of schoolyard power struggles and the magical world of ghosts, math problems, and poetry are seamless, believable, and beautiful. This rich novel provides something for readers with a variety of interests to enjoy and to think about.