I’ve been getting a lot of free books from Goodreads lately. They’ll keep giving them to me as long as I keep reviewing them on the site. Just in case you guys like books, too, I’ll also post them here. We’ll start on a high note with Upside Down in the Middle of Nowhere, an awesome middle grade disaster book by Julie T. Lamana, which set during ‘my’ hurricane. It’s releasing in April from Chronicle Books.
New Orleans native Armani Curtis looks forward to more responsibility as she turns ten. Unfortunately, she has to shoulder more than she bargained for when a hurricane rips her family apart.
I blew through the whole book in a day. I love that the children come from a variety of home types (nuclear family, single-parent, foster care) and that it doesn’t seem contrived when they have to shoulder a lot of responsibility. Each piece of the story falls neatly into place like a jigsaw puzzle. Even things that seem like set decoration at first turn out to be important later.
I work with elementary aged kids, and the young characters in this book are dead on. I can just picture precocious, know-it-all Armani Curtis standing in front of me giving me attitude. Debut author Julie T. Lamana writes Armani’s accent into the narration, so I could hear Armani ‘speaking’ in my head as I read. Writing accents is a balancing act. Tweak the grammar too little and the reader forgets the main character has an accent. Tweak it too much and the reader has difficulty following the story. This book is an example of how it should be done.
Writing a disaster book for middle graders is not easy. Any ten-year-old caught in a disaster like Hurricane Katrina would almost certainly be traumatized. The trick lies in conveying the depth of the character’s suffering without also traumatizing the reader. Lamana pulls this off masterfully. She describes the awful sights, sounds, and smells of a disaster zone without wallowing in the kind of grit and horror that would make the novel inappropriate for young readers.
My only criticisms are minor. I think young readers would benefit from a map at the beginning of the book showing New Orleans and the location of important places in the story (the Lower Ninth Ward, the Superdome, etc.) as well as the parts of the city that are below sea level and made habitable only by the levees that hold back the water. I would also have liked to see an epilogue containing some kid-friendly facts and nonfiction reading suggestions related to the hurricane, such as how much of the city was destroyed, the number of people killed or made homeless, and what happened to them afterward.
I shall now adopt the hurricane rating system for all my book reviews. This one wins highest honors:
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