Little, Brown & Company/Hachette Books
IQ "At lunch, I eat my tuna sandwich and apple juice at my table. I call it "my table", 'cause no one will sit with me. But, unlike, TaShon, I don't try to be invisible. I sit right in the middle of the cafeteria. I'm not ashamed of me." Lanesha, pg. 56
Lanesha is twelve years old and she sees ghosts. Not scary ghosts, just the everyday ghosts of New Orleans' Ninth Ward, ranging from ghosts with saggin pants to the ghost of her mother. Lanesha doesn't have a lot of money or a big family or lots of friends. But she does have Mama Ya-Ya who took her in after her mother died and is fiercely devoted to her. Mama Ya-Ya is able to see the future and she predicts hurricane Katrina. Mama Ya Ya knows it's going to be far worse than what the news anchors are saying, but she's too weak to help prepare the home for the storm. It's up to Lanesha to step up and take charge in order to make it through Katrina.
I adore this book. I had one or two little issues with it, but ultimately they didn't really factor into my enjoyment of the story. At times Ninth Ward could be quite vague. Lanesha often refers to her mysterious "uptown family", but she never really explains who they are or why they want nothing to do with her. Sure I can guess why that is, but this is one of those times that I wanted it spelled out for me. Lanesha talks about it at first, then she forgets about them and then she thinks about them all over again. I wanted some answers for her sake as well as my own. I think the story could have been a bit longer. The ending seemed rather abrupt, it didn't have to be much longer, just cover one or two other events that were left open.
"I'M NOT ASHAMED OF ME." What twelve year old do you know who would say that? Better yet, what high school student would say that? I certainly can't make that statement with confidence. The Incredible Quote I shared produced two distinct emotions in me, complete and utter sadness because at that line I officially wanted to be Lanesha's big sister (I'd even settle for younger sister or friend) so that I could hug her and reiterate to her how wonderful she is, and yet, her classmates can't see that. I also felt awe and joy because the fact that someone as young as Lanesha can be so comfortable in their own skin is beyond inspiring. Lanesha is one of the most commendable heroines that I've ever read. A large part of her appeal is her precociousness. I love that she immediately stepped up to help out Mama Ya Ya and anyone else who came to her door needing help. I kept forgetting she was twelve, I'm pretty sure I would not have had her courage at the age of twelve in the face of such a scary storm.
Ninth Ward is a quick read that glides along, guided by the consistent and valiant voice of Lanesha. Lanesha is not all brave all the time. That would not be realistic. she has moments of doubt and she faces real terror, I was holding my breath at times. Yet, somehow, she pushes through. I can only attribute to her being a remarkable young woman raised in a harsh environment but by a loving mother-like figure. I do wish some elements of the story had been further discussed and there was a particular storyline that I wanted a conclusion to. However there are twists in every chapter and the added supernatural of Lanesha seeing ghosts is an excellent addition to the story. Lanesha is thought to be evil because she was born with a caul, but Mama Ya Ya teaches her that being born with a caul makes her special and that she should embrace her gift to see ghosts. Lanesha embraces life with both arms, her gifts, her oftentimes dismal situation and her uniqueness. This is one character I would love to meet. In addition to the fabulous protagonist, the writing is simplistic but not in a bad way. It's fitting for the story, no-nonsense with a hint of a whimsical air.
Disclosure: Received from Carol. Thank you, thank you Carol! And thank you to everyone who recommended it (you know who you are).
PS I would love to see this novel win the Coretta Scott King Award (although I have other favorites as well and plenty of other books to read. More on that later).