\ Young readers book *Ninth Ward* by Jewell Parker Rhodes - Curled Up With A Good Kid's Book
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*Ninth Ward* by Jewell Parker Rhodes- young readers fantasy book review
Ninth Ward
by Jewell Parker Rhodes
Grades 5-8 224 pages Little, Brown August 2010 Hardcover    

This poignant tale of a young girl’s experience with Hurricane Katrina and its shameful aftermath in New Orleans’ Ninth Ward is simple yet profound, the great city brought to its knees by nature’s force and the disappointing government response to a disaster of this magnitude.

There are many questions about New Orleans post-Katrina, but Jewell Parker Rhodes focuses on the life of one small girl: thirteen-year-old Lanesha, who loves school and mathematics, dreaming one day of building bridges. Life is full of mystery for Lanesha and challenges, a future where anything is possible if she works hard enough.

But Lanesha is also a child of the Ninth Ward, conscious of the abject poverty of her neighborhood and the ghosts that wander the famed city, restless souls from recent times and centuries old, all part of the magical city that this girl calls home.

Lanesha lives with Mama Ya-Ya, an elderly midwife and practitioner of the old ways, who helped deliver the girl as her mother died in childbirth. And, like many such cases where love is a stronger bond than legal papers, there is no blood between the girl and her caretaker but a spiritual bond that connects one to the other.

Mama Ya-Ya tends to the needs of the spirits, stretches her monthly check to provide for Lanesha’s needs and now watches the news of the coming storm with a heavy heart. The old woman senses a worse threat than the storm but is unable to define it, seeking answers in dreams as the hurricane approaches.

While Mama Ya-Ya dreams, searching for signs, Lanesha realizes the old woman is weary, perhaps unable to meet this crisis. The girl becomes the caretaker, tucking the blankets around Mama Ya-Ya, preparing food, boarding up windows as best she can, welcoming a stay dog and a boy from her class into her home.

Lanesha has lived with an awareness of her difference from other children - her uncanny ability to see ghosts and the penetrating eyes that have brought disdain from her classmates. At the same time, she is feared in this superstitious community where the spiritual world is as powerful and the physical.

With the presence of even more ghosts in the still before the storm, including that of her mother, Lanesha realizes she is facing an extraordinary challenge, one that Mama Ya-Ya cannot protect her from.

As in her adult novels, Jewell Parker Rhodes writes with a fluid grace in the language of time and place that defines New Orleans, her young protagonist’s struggle almost allegorical as the old city is destroyed, Mama Ya-Ya slips into dreams, and only a few survive to reclaim the history of the iconic American city.

It is a tale of loss, grief, hope and strength, the uncertain future of a girl who carries on conversations with the dead and Mama Ya-Ya’s secrets in her heart.
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  Luan Gaines/2010 for curled up with a good kid's book  

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