Thursday, April 10, 2014

Zane and the Hurricane by Rodman Philbrick

Zane Dupree, a 12 year old biracial boy (father is black, mom is white), is happy living in New Hampshire with his mom and his little dog Bandy.  Zane's dad was killed in a car accident before he was born, so Zane really didn't him and it seems that all this dad's relatives were gone as well.  But then, his mom discovers that Zane has a great grandmother living in New Orleans, who didn't know he existed either.  Not only that, but she had raised his dad, James, like he was her own child...that is, until he ran away.

Now, it's the end of summer 2005, and Zane and Bandy are spending the last week of vacation before school begins visiting his great grandmother Beatrice Jackson, called Miss Trissy by everyone who knows her.  Bothered by the heat and humidity, Zane is, nevertheless, anxious to hear what Miss Trissy has to tell him about his dad.  But when he asks, she always puts off answering.  Before he has a chance to learn anything, warnings about a big hurricane named Katrina are issued for New Orleans and Zane's mom books him and his great grandmother on a flight to New Hampshire.

But when the flight is cancelled, and a mandatory evacuation is ordered for all of New Orleans, Zane, Miss Trissy and Bandy get a ride out in the church.  Traffic is at a stand still, and then, Bandy suddenly jumps out the open van window, running down the highway.  Zane jumps out to get him, but before he knows it, Bandy has brought him back to Miss Trissy's house.  And now, it is too late to go back to the van.

Stranded, alone and scared, the two weather out the hurricane in the house, but the next day, despite the sun shining, the levees break, putting most of New Orleans under water, including Miss Trissy's house, the water coming almost as high as the attic.  Luckily, Bandy's barking attracts a young girl and an older man in a canoe, and soon, Zane and Bandy are paddling away with new friends, Trudell Manning, called Mr. Tru, a New Orleans musician and his ward Malvina, a girl around Zane's age.

Thinking they will soon be safe and sound in a shelter somewhere, the three discover that the horror that is Hurricane Katrina isn't quite over for them.  Thinking they have found a quiet resprite at a school where people have gathered, they come face to face with the drug dealer who had supplied Malvina's mom with drugs before she entered rehab.  Now he wants to take Malvina with him, insurance that her mother won't tell the authorities the names of everyone involved in his drug dealing.

In their escape, Mr. Tru hurts his foot and they decide to head to the safety of the Superdome, where so many others who couldn't get out of New Orleans have gathered.  But when they finally get there, they find there is no one to help them or tend to Mr. Tru's now infected foot.

Caught up in all the chaos the followed Hurricane Katrina, will Zane ever get out of the hurricane nightmare he has found himself in and will he ever find out why his dad ran away?

My heart broke when Hurricane Katrina put New Orleans under water in 2005.  It was always a favorite city of mine, and I wondered if it would ever come back.  Happily, it has, but it hasn't been easy.  But Hurricane Katrina brought to light a lot of things that people may not have wanted to be aware of before.  And many of those things are present in this very carefully researched novel, narrated by Zane, an outsider who can make observations about what he sees and experiences.  As he and his new friends paddle through New Orleans seeking safety, class and race distinctions, especially who gets out in time and who ends up having to stay in the Superdome or on top of their roofs, are very clear to him as is whose house is on higher ground and whose ends up underwater.

 Philbrick does do a top notch job depicting the chaos, the sense of abandonment the black population in New Orleans felt by authorities who should have been able to help (remember those heartbreaking images on TV at the time), the oppressive heat and humidity, the smells, the snakes and dead bodies in the water as the trio paddle through, and the danger everyone faced, even after losing everything they owned.  However, these depictions are done in such a way that they won't turn off young readers.

And, this is still a coming of age story.  Zane has has much to learn about his personal family history, his cultural heritage and just who he is, even if it takes a hurricane to give him the impetus he needs to do that.   Some of the action may seem a little over the top and the ending might seem a little pat after some of the things the Zane experiences, but I think both are forgivable in this imminently readable, historically accurate novel.

This book is recommended for readers age 9+
This book was borrowed from a friend

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