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Ninth Ward by Jewell Parker Rhodes
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Ninth Ward

by Jewell Parker Rhodes

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This story shows how the terrible effects of Hurricane Katrina were felt by all. Told through the eyes of a 12 year old Lanesha, who lives in the Ninth Ward in New Orleans, Jewell Parker Rhodes paints the picture of the days leading up to the storm. Lanesha's mother died during childbirth and her only living relatives live Uptown, a much wealthier part of town than the Ninth Ward, and they are not part of Lanesha's life. Instead, Lanesha lives with the midwife, Mama YaYa, who brought her into this world, and immediately adopted her. Mama YaYa can predict events before they take place, she can see and talk to ghosts, and because of this, most of Lanesha's peers make fun of her. Lanesha has one good friend, a neighborhood peer who she finds on the way home from school one day defending a dog from bullies. Together they adopt this dog, unknowingly forming a bond that will help them survive.

The language in this book is repetitive, much of what Lanesha reflects upon is what her Mama Ya Ya has told her. However as her sole provider and guardian, this is to be expected. The description of her neighborhood in the Ninth Ward is fitting, as neighbors are close and friendly, even as some choose to leave before the storm. The idea of talking to ghosts is strong throughout the book and may be confusing to people both native to New Orleans or otherwise. It would be wise to address this issue with your young reader, and perhaps pair this with another short read about this aspect of the South.

Though frustrating at times to read about a 12 year old girl trying to save herself, another young boy, a dog, and her dying caretaker, I think overall Rhodes put together a well written tale of survival. This book would be best for upper-elementary through junior high. I think any older students would want the story through the eyes of someone who actually survived the events. Rhodes puts this in perspective however, as she makes you think about the storm through a young person's mindset.

I read this book after finishing the graphic novel, A.D. New Orleans After the Deluge, and I do not think it would be a great pair together, specifically due to the language and content. I do not think a 5th grader would be best suited for A.D., nor would I suggest Ninth Ward to teenager. I like the idea of pairing fiction and nonfiction, but I believe the levels of these books are too far apart for there to be a successful pairing. ( )
  Julesjack19 | Apr 18, 2018 |
Ninth Ward by Jewell Parker Rhodes, tells the story of a lonely little girl, Lanesha, who goes through Hurricane Katrina and flood which followed with her dying adopted mother, Mama Ya-ya, a former mid-wife bringing Lanesha up on her own. Lanesha has relatives that live uptown, but custody was granted to a 71-year-old with no relation to the girl. They live a lonely, separate existence inside a vibrant neighborhood community, isolated by their ability to see the future and talk to ghosts. The plot is a familiar disaster survival plot. After a long introduction to the main characters, word comes off the hurricane, people react, the storm comes and goes, the flood comes, some people die but others survive, and then the end. Nothing wrong with this as a structure, it worked incredibly well in Jesmyn Ward’s Salvage the Bones, which also was about Katrina. But a good structure, a compelling real-life event, and characters which inspire compassion, none of this could save the abysmal writing of Ms. Rhodes.

1. Non-poetic repetition- The words “Mama Ya-ya” appear on almost every single page, whether the character herself is actually present or not. Every little thing that goes through Lanesha’s head is recalled through the lens of Mama Ya-ya. T the words Mama Ya-ya are on each page, quite often 6 or 7 times. The repetition serves no purpose but seems to reflect a lack of organization on the writers part. Most of the book is taken up by Lanesha’s internal dialogue and yes, it is natural that her guardian has a huge influence over her world view. But it becomes intrusive in the prose. She can’t have more than two thoughts on her own before Mama Ya-ya comes up. It makes certain parts of the book tedious, and it greatly diminishes Lanesha’s character, which is unfortunate as the book is seen through her eyes.

2. Cliché- Growing up in the South, one is accustomed to hearing about ghosts and about people who can commune with the other world, about folk wisdom and superstition and about strange cures for uncommon ailments. It’s a part of life. But you have got to be careful, when you are writing a book with these elements, that you don’t cross over from a reflection of a place into cliché. Rhode’s writing is dripping with references to ghosts and to people who believe in all sorts of superstitions, with folk wisdom, with future-seeing elders, and with tired references to the close nit life of a New Orleans neighborhood. It doesn’t work because there is no meter to how it is let out. As Lanesha is putting the house to bed, she reflects on the quiet with a nearly full page list of what her and Mama would be talking about if Mama weren’t so tired, and the list is full of banality, like “She should be telling me about how cooking black eyed peas and greens will bring us money in the new year.”, or “You were special, I just knew it”. Banal, and also, why here, why not just put the house to bed.

3. Stranger-Than-Science-Fiction- The magic in the book is not magical realism, despit the authors intent, but rather the magic is a super-power which has more of a place in science-fiction or fantasy than a ‘realistic” book of historical fiction. These people have special powers and they use them to survive. Its weird. Mama can see that there will be a flood after the hurricane, but she refuses to tell Lanesha this, preferring for her to find out on her own. What a jerk! We’re not talking about letting two kids on the playground sort out their hurt feelings without adult mediation. No, Mama is not going to tell her daughter or her neighbors that a flood is coming, even though she knows, even though her neighbor has a boat and they could at least have gotten this tied up to the attic, just in case. Why give a character the power to see into the future if she can’t do a damn thing useful with that power? Sure, she warns Lanesha to go up to the attic without telling her why, but the rising water would have given her the same idea anyway.

4. Drawn out, confusing descriptions- Both when the storm arrives and when the two children retrieve the boat, the author attempts to use language to create a desired mood, almost in a poetical sense, and both times the reader is left wondering what just happened. The storm arrives and departs to a series of

booms, whooshes, and strange comparisons to dodgeball and tug-o-war which go unexplained. Its all confusing because you never get a sense that the storm has hit, it is introduced in such a haphazard way. And the retrieval of the boat on the roof lasts fifteen pages, including the main character nearly drowning before her mother’s ghost frees her foot. It doesn’t read as some climactic tense event, it’s just confusing. I could never picture thee action because the detail was so confused in the internal dialogue of Lanesha.

5. Too many similes and tired sayings- “His energy drained like boys siphoning gas from a car.” “Always look for the signs, Lanesha.” It’s everywhere. Lanesha cannot do anything without some sort of folky tripe coming up. She takes a bubble bath and remembers that Mama told her cherries are a sign for good fortune and sweet character. Folky wisdom that serves no purpose.

Because of all the accolades this book has received, I was expecting something completely different. Had I known nothing of the real storm and its aftermath, I would have been confused throughout. The writing lacks rhythm and the literary devices used are either over-used or used ineffectively. The story lacked genuineness, it could have been about any disaster. I did not feel as if I was reading about New Orleans or Katrina at all, but rather a generic disaster.

Would kids like this book? I don’t know. It could be used to teach about literary devices. Or about genres. Or, I guess, about Katrina. But just because its about Katrina, its not a good book or even necessarily a useful book. ( )
  jbenrubin | Apr 9, 2018 |
Lanesha (who has "the gift" and can see ghosts) lives with Mama Ya-Ya in the poor Ninth Ward of New Orleans. Mama Ya-Ya isn't even a relative, but just an old lady who took Lanesha in after her mother died in childbirth.
The story begins a few days before Hurricane Katrina hits, and continues to a couple of days afterwards, when the Ninth Ward was totally flooded.
Lanesha and her new friend TaShon (who is trapped with her at the time the flooding begins) are extremely likable characters, as is Mama Ya-Ya. There isn't a significant plot line. The first third of the book is primarily getting to know the three main characters, and the last two thirds tell about the hurricane and surviving it.
It gives a good picture of the hurricane and an even better picture of the flooding afterwards.
Although the "seeing ghosts" element didn't detract from the book, I didn't add anything particularly either. ( )
  fingerpost | Jan 8, 2018 |
A heart-tugging look at life for a young girl in NOLA's Ninth Ward in the days leading up to Katrina. ( )
  bookwyrmm | Jan 5, 2018 |
Contemporary Realistic Fiction Assignment
  MeaghanRyan | Dec 10, 2017 |
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Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Jewell Parker Rhodesprimary authorall editionscalculated
O'Brien, TimCover artistsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed

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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0316043079, Hardcover)

Twelve-year-old Lanesha lives in a tight-knit community in New Orleans' Ninth Ward. She doesn't have a fancy house like her uptown family or lots of friends like the other kids on her street. But what she does have is Mama Ya-Ya, her fiercely loving caretaker, wise in the ways of the world and able to predict the future. So when Mama Ya-Ya's visions show a powerful hurricane--Katrina--fast approaching, it's up to Lanesha to call upon the hope and strength Mama Ya-Ya has given her to help them both survive the storm.

Ninth Ward is a deeply emotional story about transformation and a celebration of resilience, friendship, and family--as only love can define it.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:18:57 -0400)

In New Orleans' Ninth Ward, twelve-year-old Lanesha, who can see spirits, and her adopted grandmother have no choice but to stay and weather the storm as Hurricane Katrina bears down upon them.

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