Saturday, July 26, 2014

Ninth Ward by Jewell Parker Rhodes

Lanesha lives in New Orleans' Ninth Ward with Mama Ya-Ya who's cared for her since she was born.  Lanesha doesn't really have any contact with her uptown family, but she doesn't let it bother her.  Mama Ya-Ya is all she needs.  Mama Ya-Ya has visions and see ghosts.  When Mama Ya-Ya has a vision about upcoming hurricane Katrina that leaves her unable to take care of Lanesha, Lanesha knows it's time for her to help them both.

This was a beautiful, lyrical story.  It's not told in verse, but the language itself had a poetic, flowing quality to it.  Lanesha is a strange child, and she knows it.  She doesn't have any friends at school, all the kids think she's weird.  Lanesha loves math (she practices for fun) and sees ghosts, like the ghost of her mother who died giving birth to her.  Many people are scared of Mama Ya-Ya and think she's a witch.  Mama Ya-Ya was a midwife, but people stop wanting her to deliver their babies.

Lanesha is happy and secure inside her small world with Mama Ya-Ya, despite her lack of friends and the fact her blood family want nothing to do with her.  She has everything she needs, and Mama Ya-Ya takes care of her. 

As the hurricane approaches, Mama Ya-Ya starts to act strange.  She's had a vision she doesn't understand.  She keeps saying, "the hurricane is not the problem."  Lanesha is worried.  Mama Ya-Ya has never acted like this before.  She's never not taken care of things.  So it falls to Lanesha to prepare for the hurricane, and it's Lanesha that keeps them safe.

After the hurricane, Lanesha's one friend, TaShon, who lives across the street from her comes back, having lost his family while taking shelter in the Superdome.  They are together when the levees break and the water starts to rise.  By this point, Mama Ya-Ya is sick and Lanesha and TaShon must work together to survive.

The ending of the book was hopeful but sad.  We feel Lanesha's triumph at having survived and taken care of herself and TaShon, but we don't know what will happen to her.  And we, the reader, know all the pain that will be coming in New Orleans.  But we're left feeling that Lanesha will be all right.  She is an exceptional child.  She will make it through.

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