By Jewell Parker Rhodes
Little Brown Books for Young Readers, 2010
Awards/Recognitions: *2010 Coretta Scott King Honor Author Award *2010 Parents Choice Foundation Gold Award *Best Fiction of 2010, School Library Journal *2011 Jane Addams Honor Book Award for Older Children
Twelve-year old Lanesha was born with a caul over her face, signifying that this child carried a gift – the gift of seeing and speaking with spirits. For that reason, her blood-family won’t have her. They live uptown in the same city, New Orleans, yet might as well be a whole world away from the lower Ninth Ward where Lanesha lives with her guardian, Mama Ya-Ya, who took her in after her mother died giving birth to her. Lanesha’s classmates mock her, too, because of the gift of the caul. They’re afraid of what they don’t understand.
Spirits everywhere greet Lanesha. At school there’s a boy her age, a ghost in baggy pants, and all through the neighborhood, Lanesha sees ghosts, young and old, from just yesterday and ghosts, black and white, from long ago. Lanesha sees her mother’s spirit, too, lingering in repose on the birthing bed at Mama Ya-Ya’s house. She’s been right there since the day Lanesha was born, yet Mama’s spirit never speaks. Lanesha knows she never really rests either.
Only Mama Ya-Ya, TaShon, and her neighbors in the Ninth Ward accept her, so Lanesha finds her solace in words, collecting them one by one, getting to know each word and all that it could mean. Words like unfathomable and omen. Mama Ya-Ya teaches Lanesha how to embrace her gift of seeing spirits and how to befriend the meanings within those words.
Mama Ya-Ya has a gift of her own. She always knows when TaShon is coming over, even well before he reaches the door. In fact, Mama Ya-Ya always knows when something is coming, and this time she sees wrath – the wrath of a storm churning fast toward New Orleans. Yet, something different is about to happen, something that even Mama Ya-Ya cannot comprehend.
To survive this hurricane, Lanesha and TaShon will need all of Mama Ya-Ya’s wisdom and aid from Lanesha’s spirit-friends, too. Lanesha will need to crack open those words she’s learned and absorb their power. Powerful words like fortitude and suspension can help Lanesha through Hurricane Katrina.
Ninth Ward is author Jewell Parker Rhodes first novel for young readers. Strong and steady from the eye of Katrina, Parker Rhodes wields her own powers of voice, imagery, and metaphor. Even once the levee breaks, Parker Rhodes rises above with words and characters strong and beautiful enough to do more than survive. Ninth Ward is a fantastic story of friendship, family, and resourcefulness. It’s also an outstanding tribute to the sense of pride and depth of resolve that we’ve seen and continue to see in the people of New Orleans. GA