My ALA Awards reaction post

Surprise! I didn't watch the webcast (being somewhere over the North Atlantic at the time), so I can't confirm whether or not someone actually jumped out from behind a couch to announce the winner of this year's Newbery Medal, debut author Clare Vanderpool for Moon over Manifest (Delacorte), but he or she may as well have. I haven't even read it yet!  The Caldecott Medal likewise went to debut illustrator Erin Stead for A Sick Day for Amos McGee (written by her husband, Philip Christian Stead; Roaring Brook). I haven't read that one either! They're both on my hold list now, though.  Congratulations all around!

More reactions and reviews to come!  It's good to be home.

Ninth Ward

Ninth Ward by Jewell Parker Rhodes (Little, Brown, 2010) is dedicated to "all the children who experienced Hurricane Katrina and the levees breaking in New Orleans." Five years ago today.

The book itself is a coming-of-age story, with realistic and fantastical elements in equal measure.  Twelve-year-old narrator Lanesha and her Mama Ya-Ya can see ghosts, including the ghost of Lanesha's mother, who died birthing her.  And Mama Ya-Ya can see the future.  That future, of course, includes the hurricane and its aftermath--events that will test Lanesha and over which she must find a way to triumph.

Rhodes gives Lanesha a lovely voice, and for the first several chapters (the calm before the storm), all is well in the Ninth Ward.  Lanesha is a bright girl who loves words and wants to be an engineer.  She has a close, loving relationship with Mama Ya-Ya; a supportive teacher at her new middle school; a strong community of neighbors and shopkeepers and even, for the first time, friends her own age (Ginia and TaShon).  I loved this part of the book and wanted it to go on, for Lanesha's sake, even though I knew full well the storm was coming.

When it does, Lanesha must cope with the realization that Mama Ya-Ya, already old, is losing strength as rapidly as the storm is gaining it.  Now Lanesha has to rely on her own fortitude (one of her vocabulary words, meaning "strength to endure") to get herself and TaShon through the storm.

A note about the ghosts:  Mama Ya-Ya, and especially Lanesha, see ghosts throughout the book.  The ghosts are usually in the background, and I almost took their presence for granted (this is New Orleans, after all).  Ninth Ward just doesn't feel like a ghost story or a fantasy novel.  Maybe it's magical realism?

[See the author's website for resources related to Ninth Ward.]