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Tuesday, December 04, 2012

Haunting Ninth Ward A Vivid Tribute to NOLA's Survivor Spirit

(Image from Barnes & Noble)

Lanesha can see ghosts.  It's an ability the 12-year-old has had since the day she was born.  Her guardian, an 82-year-old midwife named Mama Ya-Ya, attributes Lanesha's "sight" to the unusual circumstances of her birth.  Lanesha figures it's because her entrance into the world caused her mother's exit.  Now, she can see not just the ghost of her mother, but also those of the other unsettled spirits who walk the streets of New Orleans.  The apparitions don't scare Lanesha—they're just there, gazing at her with confusion in their blank, empty eyes.  Still, she's learned not to mention the ghosts to other people.  She gets mocked enough as it is.

Mama Ya-Ya also has The Sight.  As Hurricane Katrina gathers strength, preparing to bear down on New Orleans, she's beset by visions of destruction and death.  Lanesha's frightened by Mama Ya-Ya's predictions, but what can she do?  She has no money, no place to go.  Even if she could convince Mama Ya-Ya to evacuate, the elderly woman wouldn't last long in the overcrowded Superdome.  The only solution is to prepare for the monster storm as best she can and pray that Katrina will have mercy on their poor souls.

As the hurricane blows and the levees break, drowning her home in foul floodwater, Lanesha will be in for the fight of her life.  It's up to one terrified girl to save not just herself, but also her frail guardian.  In Ninth Ward, one of the areas most devastated by Katrina's brutality, the indomitable Lanesha will experience terror, sorrow, and ultimately, the will to go on in the face of unimaginable tragedy.

Ninth Ward, a new middle grade book by adult author Jewell Parker Rhodes, captures the horror unleashed by Hurricane Katrina in a vivid, atmospheric story that will haunt readers long after they finish reading it.  Lanesha's a wholly sympathetic character, one who earned not just my pity, but my admiration.  I rooted for her from the first page of her harrowing story to the last.  And she did not disappoint.  Although the ending of Ninth Ward isn't as happy as I wanted it to be (all too realistic, unfortunately), I found the tale as a whole to be an engrossing, inspiring and very fitting tribute to all the people who defied Katrina by resisting, rebuilding and restoring hope to a devastated city ironically called The Big Easy.

(Readalikes:  Although I haven't finished Salvage the Bones, a gritty YA novel by Jesmyn Ward, it's similar [in subject matter, anyway] to Ninth Ward.)

Grade:  B

If this were a movie, it would be rated:  PG for scary images/scenes of peril

To the FTC, with love:  I borrowed a finished copy of Ninth Ward from the library at my children's elementary school as part of my volunteer work with the school's reading program.  


  1. Well, I have always found ghost stories thrilling...I wanted to read more...this could have been a little scarier... (I guess)

    1. There are ghosts in the story, but it's not really a ghost story, you know? I thought the whole book was haunting more than ghost-story scary -- I found it all very affecting.


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