Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Middle-Grade Review: Zane and the Hurricane

Today is Mardi Gras day, the end of a very special season of celebration in New Orleans, so it seemed like the perfect time to write a review of an amazing middle-grade novel I just finished, Zane and the Hurricane by award-winning author Rodman Philbrick. As you might have guessed, this is a novel about Hurricane Katrina and its aftermath, and I was completely engrossed in its emotionally powerful story from beginning to end.

Twelve-year old Zane Dupree lives in New Hampshire with his mom and his dog Bandit (Bandy for short). Zane’s mom discovers a long-lost relative living in New Orleans, Zane’s great-grandmother, known as Miss Trissy, who raised his father when he was a boy. Zane’s dad died before he was born, so Zane never knew him, but his mom really wants him to know his great-grandmother.  Zane agrees to go visit Miss Trissy, if he can bring Bandy along. His timing is terrible, though, because just as he arrives in hot and humid New Orleans, a tropical depression that was supposed to die out turns into a huge storm named Katrina.

Zane meets Miss Trissy in the first few chapters, and the rest of the novel focuses on what happens during and after Katrina. Miss Trissy lives in the Ninth Ward, which took the worst brunt of the flooding and damage after the levees broke. If you saw any news at all about Katrina, you know that Zane’s story is a difficult one, filled with fear and tragedy. It’s not all horrible; the novel includes instances of courage, friendship, and generosity alongside the bad things.

We used to live in New Orleans, so we watched the news of Katrina with even more horror than most Americans as we saw parts of our beloved city destroyed. I found this novel to be very realistic and true to New Orleans’ true character and spirit, both the good and the bad. The author did a fabulous job of describing the city and its people and making you feel like you were really there. The bulk of the novel occurs during the storm and the flooding afterward so there is a lot of tension and suspense, as the reader goes along with Zane through the terror and uncertainty of those first days that forever changed New Orleans and the surrounding areas.

Philbrick includes plenty of factual information about Katrina, including maps, a timeline, and real facts that were used as the basis for certain events in the story. All of it – the fiction and the facts – made me want to learn more. This is an emotional story that packs a powerful punch and stays with you long after you read the last page.

181 pages, The Blue Sky Press (an imprint of Scholastic)

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