Ninth Ward shares the story of 12-year-old Lanesha who is living in the Ninth Ward of New Orleans, learning new words, how to draw bridges, and how to understand her gift.
Born inside a caul, (a skin netting covering her face), she is cast aside by her Uptown family after her mother dies giving birth to her. The only constants in her life are the 82-year-old midwife who delivered her, Mama Ya Ya, and their gifts of sight.
When one of MaMa Ya-Ya’s dreams shows a powerful hurricane approaching, Lanesha is forced to come into her own by taking care of herself and Mama Ya-Ya to survive the devastating Hurricane Katrina.
Not understanding the eerie doom MaMa Ya-Ya fears, Lanesha talks with the ghosts who have amassed the city while residents leave the Ninth Ward for safety in the New Orleans Superdome. She also talks with her mother’s ghost which she’s seen since birth.
Stranded without transportation, family or money (the Social Security check is days away), they survive the storm.
But the fear of doom is realized when the rising Mississippi River makes the attic a temporary refuge for Lanesha, a dying MaMa Ya-Ya, TaShon (who gets separated from his parents in the dome), and Spot, their shared dog.
Lanesha’s fictitious strength and bravery is an eye-opening account of the possible real-life struggles that young children and their elderly caregivers experienced on those dreadful three days in 2005.
Like Lanesha, the reader learns the true power of love and inner strength.
Well deserving of its place as Al Roker’s Book Club Selection, Ninth Ward demonstrates author Jewell Parker Rhodes’ storytelling acumen and refreshing imagination that should be awarded the John Newbery Medal and Coretta Scott King Book Award-at the least.
This book is reassurance that the genre of Black youth literature is fertile and valuable.
As with Toni Morrison and Octavia Butler, from now on, grab anything Rhodes pens. a
Add Ninth Ward to required reading lists. It is an extra-ordinary reading experience that should be offered as a gift, read and reread. BuytheBook. Meet Jewell Parker Rhodes at Octavia Books in New Orleans, Sept. 27, 4pm and inBaton Rouge, Sept. 28, Citi PlaceBarnes and Noble