Books give us the stories that help us relate to the past. 10 years ago, Hurricane Katrina was an event that we all watched on television as details unfolded before us. Even with continuous CNN coverage, we could not understand, could not accept the devastation we witnessed. Why didn’t they leave? Why didn’t the government do more? Why did so many people live in a low lying flood plane in hurricane country?
Arriving in August, Katrina was the fifth hurricane of the season. It was the costliest natural disaster, as well as one of the five deadliest hurricanes in America. We watched in agony as the storm grew in intensity and we especially watched on 29 August when it hit land in Louisiana. And, it hit hard.
Today, New Orleans continues to hold a place in our hearts. And, with these fine books for young adult readers, the events from 10 years ago can hold a place on bookshelves and in our collective memories. While hurricanes are meteorological events, this one became a sociological one that symbolized racism, classicism, government inefficiency and man’s inhumanity to man. I think this country is still process all the went wrong leading up to and during the storm while also celebrating what went right in the aftermath. While most of these books are not issue driven, they do speak to the issues and they become necessary reading for teens.
First on the list is the just released Finding Someplace.
Denise Lewis Patrick. Finding Someplace. Henry Holt and Co; August, 2015. ages 8-12.
Reesie Boone just knows that thirteen is going to be her best year yet-this will be the year she makes her very first fashion design on her Ma Maw’s sewing machine. She’ll skip down the streets of New Orleans with her best friends, Ayanna and Orlando, and everyone will look at her in admiration.
But on Reesie’s birthday, everything changes. Hurricane Katrina hits her city. Stranded at home alone, Reesie takes refuge with her elderly neighbor, Miss Martine. The waters rise. They escape in a boat. And soon Reesie is reunited with her family. But her journey back home has only begun.
This is a story of a family putting itself back together, and a young girl learning to find herself.
Paul Volponi. Hurricane Song: A Novel of New Orleans. Speak; 2009. ages 12 and up.
When Miles?s mother remarries, Miles decides to move to New Orleans to be with his father. But he and his father are very different?Miles?s dad lives for jazz, while Miles?s first love is football. Then Hurricane Katrina hits, and the two must seek refuge in the Superdome. What would normally be a dream come true for a football fan, this safe haven turns into a nightmare when the power fails and gangs take over. And when his father decides to rebel, Miles must make a choice that will alter their relationship? and their lives?forever.
Jewell Parker Rhodes. Ninth Ward. Little, Brown Books for Young Readers; April 2012. ages 10 and up.
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.
Jewell Parker Rhodes has written other novels set in Louisiana: Sugar (Little, Borwn Books, 2013) and Bayou Magic (Little, Brown Books; 2015).
Michael Eric Dyson. Come Hell or High Water: Hurrican Katrian and the Color of Disaster. Basic Civitas Books; 2006. adult crossover.
When Hurricane Katrina tore through New Orleans and the Gulf Coast, hundreds of thousands were left behind to suffer the ravages of destruction, disease, and even death. The majority of these people were black; nearly all were poor. The Federal government’s slow response to local appeals for help is by now notorious. Yet despite the cries of outrage that have mounted since the levees broke, we have failed to confront the disaster’s true lesson: to be poor, or black, in today’s ownership society, is to be left behind. Displaying the intellectual rigor, political passion, and personal empathy that have won him acclaim and fans all across the color line, Michael Eric Dyson offers a searing assessment of the meaning of Hurricane Katrina. Combining interviews with survivors of the disaster with his deep knowledge of black migrations and government policy over decades, Dyson provides the historical context that has been sorely missing from public conversation. He explores the legacy of black suffering in America since slavery and ties its psychic scars to today’s crisis. And, finally, his critique of the way black people are framed in the national consciousness will shock and surprise even the most politically savvy reader. With this clarion call Dyson warns us that we can only find redemption as a society if we acknowledge that Katrina was more than an engineering or emergency response failure. From the TV newsroom to the Capitol Building to the backyard, we must change the way we relate to the black and the poor among us. What’s at stake is no less than the future of democracy.
Jacqueline Woodson. Beneath a Meth Moon. Speak; 2013. ages 12 and up.
Hurricane Katrina took her mother and granmother. And even though Laurel Daneau has moves on to a new life–one that includes a new best friend, a spot on the cheerleading squad, and dating the co-captain of the football team–she can’t get past the pain of that loss. Then her new boyfriend introduces her to meth, and Laurel is instantly seduced by its spell, the way it erases, even if only temporarily, her memories. Soon Laurel is completely hooked, a shell of her former self, desperate to be whole again, but lacking the strength to break free. But with the help of a new friend–and the loyalty of an old one–she is able to rewrite her own story and move on with her own life.
Sherri L. Smith. Orleans. Speak; 2014. ages 12 and up.
After a string of devastating hurricanes and a severe outbreak of Delta Fever, the Gulf Coast has been quarantined. Years later, residents of the Outer States are under the assumption that life in the Delta is all but extinct…but in reality, a new primitive society has been born.
Fen de la Guerre is living with the O-Positive blood tribe in the Delta when they are ambushed. Left with her tribe leader’s newborn, Fen is determined to get the baby to a better life over the wall before her blood becomes tainted. Fen meets Daniel, a scientist from the Outer States who has snuck into the Delta illegally. Brought together by chance, kept together by danger, Fen and Daniel navigate the wasteland of Orleans. In the end, they are each other’s last hope for survival.
Renne Watson. A Place Where Hurricanes Happen. Random House; 2010. ages 5 and up.
Children of New Orleans tell about their experiences of Hurricane Katrina through poignant and straightforward free verse in this fictional account of the storm. As natural and man-made disasters become commonplace, we increasingly need books like this one to help children contextualize and discuss difficult and often tragic events.
Saint is a boy with confidence as big as his name is long. A budding musician, he earns money playing clarinet for the New Orleans tourists, and his best friend is a stray dog named Shadow. At first Saint is sure that Hurricane Katrina will be just like the last one–no big deal. But then the city is ordered to evacuate and Saint refuses to leave without Shadow. Saint and Shadow flee to his neighbor’s attic–and soon enough it’s up to Saint to save them all.
Dave Eggers. Zeitoun. McSweeney’s; 2009. adult crossover [one of my personal favorites]
The true story of one family, caught between America’s two biggest policy disasters: the war on terror and the response to Hurricane Katrina.
Abdulrahman and Kathy Zeitoun run a house-painting business in New Orleans. In August of 2005, as Hurricane Katrina approaches, Kathy evacuates with their four young children, leaving Zeitoun to watch over the business. In the days following the storm he travels the city by canoe, feeding abandoned animals and helping elderly neighbors. Then, on September 6th, police officers armed with M-16s arrest Zeitoun in his home. Told with eloquence and compassion, Zeitoun is a riveting account of one family’s unthinkable struggle with forces beyond wind and water.
Josh Neufeld. A.D.: New Orleans After the Deluge. Pantheon, 2009.
Here we meet Denise, a counselor and social worker, and a sixth-generation New Orleanian;
“The Doctor,” a proud fixture of the French Quarter; Abbas and Darnell, two friends who face the storm from Abbas’ s family-run market; Kwame, a pastor’s son just entering his senior year of high school; and the young couple Leo and Michelle, who both grew up in the city. Each is forced to confront the same wrenching decision–whether to stay or to flee.As beautiful as it is poignant, A.D. presents a city in chaos and shines a bright, profoundly human light on the tragedies and triumphs that took place within it.
Recommended by Lila Quintero Weaver
Fatima Shaik and Nicole P. Greene. What Went Missing and What Got Found. Xavier Review Press, 2015.
A love letter to the entertaining, unpredictable, and flawed characters who populated New Orleans before Hurricane Katrina, What Went Missing and What Got Found is a lyrical short story collection with undertones of the blues.
Set in a deep-rooted community, the book describes the inner lives of outsiders with humor and tenderness. There are religious zealots, day-dreaming musicians, failed romantics, and more a mute woman who believes that the photos of starving children in the newspaper are speaking to her, a man who mourns the loss of his true love while being accused of her murder, and an old couple who spends their last night together as flood waters rise around their bed.
The Short Story Review wrote about Shaik s previous adult book, The Mayor of New Orleans: Just Talking Jazz, The trio of novellas is set in and around New Orleans where the mixed-race Creoles speak their own dialect…Shaik writes with empathy and compassion about the lower rungs of New Orleans society. There are no villains here, nor is there the damp-palm voyeurism we have seen in other New Orleans-set stories. National Public Radio called her book a terrific, charging solo. Publishers Weekly, Booklist, Kirkus, and the San Francisco Chronicle also praised the collection.
Recommended by Lyn Miller-Lachmann (below)
What other books can you recommend for YAs on New Orleans or Hurricane Katrina?