Upside Down in the Middle of Nowhere by Julie T. Lamana Book Review

Upside Down in the Middle of Nowhere by Julie T. Lamana
Publisher: Chronicle Books
Release Date: April 8, 2014

Armani Curtis is about to turn ten years old. Living in the Lower Nines of New Orleans, all the adults seem to care about though is the hurricane Katrina chugging away in the Gulf Coast. Intent on having her birthday party, Armani doesn't tell her papa about the neighbors who are getting out of town and she ignores her Memaw who frets over the storm. However, when the hurricane changes course, heading straight for New Orleans, no one can ignore the storm any longer. Then the unthinkable happens, the levees break and Armani realizes that being ten means more than just getting older, it means being brave, watching loved ones die, and requires strength in order to hold her family together.

For me, the adult reader, this story was agonizingly suspenseful. I think the timeline of the events of Hurricane Katrina will be forever cemented in my mind, just like 9/11. A national tragedy that some young readers, especially those living in Louisiana and Mississippi will have heard about all their lives, but don't remember. I think the story would be suspenseful for younger readers as well, but watching the days and hours tick by with each chapter was especially grueling. I knew that water was coming.

Lamana does not spare her young readers either. The tragedy that follows when the levees break is heart wrenching and terrible. People die. Families are split apart. Armani, our young heroine, is so so brave. We are taken through each stage of the disaster. First they climb into the attic to escape the flood, then they manage to get on the roof, then rescue by a kindly boatman, followed by a quick stop at the Super Dome. Finally, there is the shelter. By the time Armani comes to the shelter her family has been so fractured that she clings desperately to the ones she has left, lying when needed in order to keep them all safe and together. There are some fabulous secondary characters that come and go.

Perhaps the best part of the book though was how well Lamana captures the language, culture, poverty, and familial ties that help shape New Orleans and the Lower Nines. She isn't afraid to hit on the hard parts, but shows the beauty and strength that can be found amidst such tragedy.