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Ninth Ward by Jewell Parker Rhodes

By Clementine Bojangles | Books | February 9, 2011 |

By Clementine Bojangles | Books | February 9, 2011 |

Twelve-year-old Lanesha lives with her surrogate mother, Mama Ya-Ya in the lower Ninth Ward in New Orleans. Lanesha is different-she can see ghosts, and Mama Ya-Ya is different, too, relying on the mystical forces in the world to see the future. When Mama Ya-Ya sees a big storm brewing-the storm that will become Hurricane Katrina-it’s up to Lanesha to make sure that they’re prepared to weather the rain, wind, and flooding.

Jewell Parker Rhodes won the Coretta Scott King Award for this novel, and it’s not hard to see why. Rhodes writes the story of Lanesha and her tight-knit neighborhood in New Orleans beautifully, with prose that leaps off the page and seems to simmer with the heat and intensity of the city itself. Lanesha’s voice is well-developed, unique, and strong. Her unique abilities and startling clarity make her a narrator that is fascinating and absolutely compelling.

Rhodes also does a wonderful job of capturing the world through the eyes of a child on the brink of young adulthood, and Lanesha’s voice is always authentic. The characters that populate her world are at times vibrant and heart-breaking. Standouts include Mama Ya-Ya and TaShon, the neighborhood boy who’s a little different, too. Other characters in Lanesha’s neighborhood don’t necessarily pop the way that the main characters do, but this is a small nitpick and doesn’t diminish the enjoyment of the story.

Lanesha’s strength in the face of serious strife is something that is both remarkable and inspiring. Although she goes above and beyond the expectations of a normal twelve-year-old, nothing ever seems to be completely unbelievable. She is a (mostly) normal girl forced into an extraordinary situation, and she rises to meet the challenges she’s faced with, including saving her loved ones. It’s a story that is both heart-breaking and hopeful, saddening and inspirational.

Highly, highly recommended to readers of YA and MG fiction, but also to readers of fiction in general. Rhodes’s writing is layered and complex in a way that makes it appropriate for younger readers but also allows it to resonate with older audiences, too.

For more of Clementine Bojangles’ reviews, check out her blog, Early Nerd Special.

This review is part of Cannonball Read III. For more information, click here.

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