Ninth Ward
by Rhodes, Jewell Parker

Rejected by her peers because of supernatural gifts that enable her to see spirits, 12-year-old Lanesha, a resident of New Orleans's Ninth Ward, receives affirmation from fiercely loving caretaker Mama Ya-Ya and is forced to draw on inner strength in the wake of Hurricane Katrina. A first middle grade novel by the award-winning author of Voodoo Dreams.

Jewell Parker Rhodes is the author of Ninth Ward, a Coretta Scott King honor book, Sugar, winner of the Jane Adams Peace Association book award, Bayou Magic, and Towers Falling. She has also written many award-winning books for adults.

New Orleans during Hurricane Katrina is the setting for this tense novel that blends the drama of the catastrophic storm with magic realism. Twelve-year-old Lanesha's teenage mother died while giving birth to her, and, because her mother's wealthy uptown family won't have anything to do with her, she is raised in the Ninth Ward by loving Mama Ya-Ya, 82, who feels like her "mother and grandmother both." Born with a caul over her eyes, Lanesha is teased at school, but she is strengthened by her fierce caretaker's devotion and by a teacher who inspires Lanesha to become an engineer and build bridges. Lanesha also has "second sight," which includes an ability to see her mother's ghost. As the storm nears and the call comes for mandatory evacuation, Mama Ya-Ya envisions that she will not survive, but Lanesha escapes the rising water in a small rowboat and even rescues others along the way. The dynamics of the diverse community enrich the survival story, and the contemporary struggle of one brave child humanizes the historic tragedy. Copyright 2010 Booklist Reviews.

Born with a caul, 12-year-old Lanesha can see and sometimes communicate with spirits, and her guardian, former midwife Mama Ya-Ya, has dreams and visions that foretell the future. Their exquisitely happy, though poor, life in the New Orleans Ninth Ward is disrupted by news of a powerful storm approaching. Mama Ya-Ya knows it will get bad, but she has no means to get Lanesha out of the city. Knowing she herself will soon die, Mama Ya-Ya decides to wager that  Lanesha's talents, both her supernatural skills and her more commonplace pluck and creativity, will see the young girl and her friend TaShon through Hurricane Katrina safely. The two children must confront not only the intense storm and Mama Ya-Ya's death but rapidly rising flood waters to survive. Rhodes's characters are likable and her story gripping. Unfortunately, though, romanticized depictions such as this one threaten to undermine our collective sense of the true plight of pre- and post-Katrina Ninth Ward residents. A good title for discussion when balanced with historical accounts of Katrina and her aftermath. (Fiction. 10-14)

Copyright Kirkus 2010 Kirkus/BPI Communications.All rights reserved.

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