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13 / 30 books. 43% done!

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74 / 104 books. 71% done!

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50 / 52 books. 96% done!

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84 / 165 books. 51% done!
Tuesday, June 03, 2014

Haunting, Hopeful Hurricane Katrina Novel a Vivid, Inspirational Read

(Image from Central Speaks)

A storm is brewing in the Gulf Coast, a squall some say could turn into the biggest, most catastrophic hurricane ever to hit New Orleans.  Armani Curtis could not care less about all the talk, however ominous.  She's got more important things to worry about—like her upcoming birthday party.  She's weathered plenty of storms, but she's never turned 10 before.  She can't wait for the cake, the presents, and all that attention focused just on her.  It's going to be a perfect day.  

Then, the storm starts blowing in earnest.  People begin to panic, not just boarding up their houses, but actually leaving town.  Things don't look good for the party Armani's been looking forward to for ages.  In fact, things don't look good at all.  Especially not for the Curtises, who can't leave their home in the Lower Ninth Ward.  They have nowhere else to go, no choice but to hunker down and pray for preservation. 

As Hurricane Katrina rages on and the floodwater rises, Armani realizes just how desperate her family's situation really is.  Stranded on the rooftop with her sickly grandma, her terrified parents and her four young siblings, Armani yearns for deliverance.  When help fails to come, she knows it's up to her to save her family.  But how?  With fetid water drowning her home and dead bodies floating by in the murderous soup, survival seems like a hopeless dream.  What chance does a brand-new 10-year-old have of triumphing over the vicious storm?  Probably none, but Armani has to try—no matter what the risk.   

A lot of readers avoid books about natural disasters, war, and other cruel events, preferring to spend their leisure hours enjoying lighter fare.  In fact, when I explained the plot of Upside Down in the Middle of Nowhere—a debut novel by Julie T. Lamana—to my dentist, he exclaimed, "How can you stand to read such depressing books?"  (Yes, I talk books with my dentist.  And my hygienist.  In fact, I think we spend more time exchanging reading recommendations than discussing my teeth.  Which is just fine with me—I'll take a rousing book discussion over an oh-so-scintillating flossing lecture any day.)  It's funny, because although Upside Down in the Middle of Nowhere details some pretty harrowing events, I hadn't thought of the book as depressing until my dentist described it as such.  Why is that?  I think it's because the story has such a triumphant feel to it.  Lamana, who lives in Louisiana and worked with children displaced because of Hurricane Katrina, wrote the book to give kids hope in the face of difficult situations.  Through the brave, spunky Armani, she does just that.

While it teaches important lessons, there's more to Upside Down in the Middle of Nowhere than just an inspirational message.  With a vivid, atmospheric setting; tight, vibrant prose; complex, colorful characters; and a heart-pounding, action-packed plotline, it's also a riveting story.  Because all these elements are so well fleshed-out, readers get a you-are-there feel for the horror many people experienced for real.  Lamana doesn't shy away from showing scary scenes, but she does infuse them with hope, promising that good can be found even in the face of devastating tragedy.

Maybe the book's subject is depressing, but overall, I found it to be an uplifting novel about the power of family, fortitude and finding the strength you didn't know you had in the instant you needed it the most.      

(Readalikes:  Ninth Ward by Jewell Parker Rhodes)


If this were a movie, it would be rated:

for brief, mild language (no F-bombs) and intense/scary images

To the FTC, with love:  I received an ARC of Upside Down in the Middle of Nowhere from the generous Julie T. Lamana.  Thank you!

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