Review: Ninth Ward by Jewell Parker Rhodes


Title: Ninth Ward

Author: Jewell Parker Rhodes

Publisher: Little, Brown Books for Young Readers

ISBN: 978-0316043076


May Contain Spoilers

From Amazon:

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.


Ninth Ward is a wonderful book about a young girl who finds strength in adversity.  In the middle of the worst natural disaster in our country’s history, she learns to be true to herself and learns to accept who she is.  I loved Lanesha, and as Katrina approached, I started to feel just as uneasy as she did.  As her  guardian, Mama Ya-Ya, becomes more and more unsettled by the approaching storm, there is a frightening shift in their relationship.  Lanesha has always thought that Mama Ya-Ya was the strongest, wisest woman she knew, but the impending disaster makes her see that she needs to step up and be strong herself.  Lanesha didn’t have much in the way of material goods, but boy, this girl has such a strength of spirit and such a kind heart that you begin to wonder with growing dread – how will this terrible disaster change her?

The description of the storm is terrifying – loud, impossibly powerful, frighteningly intense, this is like something from your worst nightmare.  It is a monster raining havoc on the helpless Lanesha and Mama Ya-Ya, as they cower in their ancient house and pray that it isn’t reduced to rubble around them.  It came to life and made my heart pound.  But what really scared me while reading about Katrina was knowing what happens next.  How will Lanesha and Mama Ya-Ya survive what happens after Katrina’s fury passes, when the storm surge devastates the levees and lets the waters from the Mississippi pour into the already battered Ninth Ward?  The gates of hell have opened; how much can one young girl live through?

I was a little nervous about picking up this book because I remember Katrina so vividly.  I, however, was blessed to be an outsider looking in with horror at the damage done by this horrible storm.  I remember the rage and frustration I felt that our government couldn’t get it together enough to quickly and efficiently get relief supplies to the people who so desperately needed them.  The scenes from the Superdome are a travesty – how could a disaster of this magnitude happen here, in the wealthiest country in the world?  We were supposed to be prepared.   This was the best our leaders could do?  And to blame the victims for their own misery?  What kind of compassion is that?

Ninth Ward puts a very human face on the awful events that tore New Orleans apart. It’s a book about love, hope, and friendship.  It’s about the strength of a community, strength in adversity, and the very powerful will to survive in the midst of a disaster.  It’s also about learning who you are and never giving up.  This is one of the best books I’ve read this year, and I can’t recommend it enough.

Grade: A

Review copy obtained from my local library