Book Review: Ninth Ward by Jewell Parker Rhodes

Posted February 20, 2012 by Heather in Book Reviews / 6 Comments

Book Review: Ninth Ward by Jewell Parker RhodesNinth Ward by Jewell Parker Rhodes
Published by Little, Brown Books for Young Readers on 2010
Genres: Fiction, Young Adult
Format: Paperback
Pages: 224
Source: my shelves

Goodreads | Amazon

Twelve-year-old Lanesha lives in a tight-knit community in New Orleanes’ Ninth Ward. She doesn’t have a fancy house like her uptown family or lots of friends like other kids on her street. But what she does have is Mama Ya-Ya, her fiercely loving caretaker, wise in the ways of the world and able to predict the future. So when Mama Ya-Ya’s visions show a powerful hurricane–Katrina–fast approaching, it’s up to Lanesha to call upon the hope and strength Mama Ya-Ya has given her to help them both survive the storm.

Ninth Ward is a celebration of resilience, love, family, and friendship, and a deeply emotional story of transformation.

(from the author's website)

This book was brought to my attention by Vasilly of 1330v, and I’m so glad I decided to read it for the 2012 African American Read-In that she’s hosting today on her blog. Ashley (my 11-year-old daughter) and I read this together, and we both loved it. Ninth Ward is a wonderful, magical story about the events surrounding Hurricane Katrina, written from the perspective of 12-year-old Lanesha, a girl who lives in the Ninth Ward of New Orleans with her eccentric and lovable caretaker, Mama Ya-Ya. Because it’s written for children, it doesn’t go into the horrific particulars of the aftermath of the storm, but it gave Ashley a good idea of what it must have been like for kids her age to experience something like that. Ashley was too young in 2005 to have any real knowledge of the circumstances surrounding the hurricane, but Ninth Ward gave her enough information to ask questions about the finer details. Needless to say, we had a long conversation after finishing the book.

All of the characters in Ninth Ward are great–Lanesha is smart, strong, and a little eccentric herself (I don’t want to give too much away); Mama Ya-Ya is so sweet and caring and full of wisdom; and TaShon is so cute with his dog, Spot, and his eventual friendship with Lanesha gave me the warm fuzzies. Ashley and I would have liked for Ginia to play a bigger role in the story, though, and we both felt like we were left hanging about her background and her family. We were also itching to know what became of everyone when we got to the end of the book–it ends on a note of happiness and hope, but there were some loose ends that we had to tie up with our imaginations. That is probably a good thing, though, considering this is technically a children’s book–I’m sure every child who reads this will come up with their own version of what happens after they turn that last page.

Jewell Parker Rhodes is a great writer and she did a fantastic job of telling this story in the voice of a 12-year-old. Her writing made Ashley and I feel what the characters must have been feeling: parts of Ninth Ward made us laugh, some parts made us very anxious, and some parts brought tears to our eyes. Again, I’m so glad I decided to read this, and I highly recommend it to anyone–child or adult–who’s interested in reading a good story about Hurricane Katrina. This is a great book for parents and their children to read together.


If you’ve read this book, or are interested in seeing what others have to say about it, feel free to drop by Vasilly’s website–discussion starts today!


  • Thanks for letting everyone know about the read-in, Heather. I think you’re right about the ending. It’s a cliffhanger and I would love to have a more solid ending. After reading the book, I wondered about Lanesha and what would happen to her. Great review and thanks for participating in today’s event. 🙂

    • The pleasure was mine. Thank you for hosting it and bringing this book to my attention. It was a good way to start a conversation with my daughter about the events (and non-events, sadly) pertaining to Katrina.

  • Great review, Heather. I would love to have a copy for my kids at home. The information about hurricane katrina will come in handy so they can appreciate what happens in other nations. We in Ghana don’t have hurricanes, and our seasons, dry and wet, though brings some devastation (bushfires and floods), it certainly is not on the scale as Katrina.

    I think this book also teaches on courage, love, public spiritedness and friendship, qualities that any growing child should be taught to have. Thanks.

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  • George

    I loved it, even though I’m 11 it was very interesting

    • I’m glad you loved it! It’s a wonderful book.