I thought Zane and the Hurricane, fiction set in New Orleans during Hurricane Katrina, was kind of intense for middle grade, but Upside Down in the Middle of Nowhere takes intense and tragic to another level. It’s not gruesome or gratuitous, but people do die. Some middle grade readers might find the book quite upsetting.
That said, this book does do a good job of showing how an ordinary day can turn into horror and tragedy in very little time. Along with the characters in the book —ten year old Armani, her little sister Sealy, Memaw, the twins, and the rest of the extended family— I continued to shake my head in disbelief as the family lived through the devastation of Hurricane Katrina and the bursting of the levee in the “Lower Nines” (Ninth Ward) of New Orleans –not to mention the aftermath of flood, crime, and disease in NOLA as the hurricane subsided.
Armani “realizes that being ten means being brave, watching loved ones die, and mustering all her strength to help her family survive this storm.” I liked Armani and her family and had no trouble believing their story was true to life. It was also sad, and –WARNING!—the ending is very sad. I won’t say the story is without that “sense of hope” that some of us look for in children’s literature in particular, but it maybe difficult for some readers to stomach.
The author, Julie Lamana, lives in Grenwell Springs, Louisiana and was working in the schools in LA as a Literacy Specialist in 2005 when Hurricane Katrina hit. She heard lots of survivors’ stories firsthand, and I assume that some of those stories were incorporated into her novel in some form. Upside Down in the Middle of Nowhere is Ms. Lamana’s debut novel, although she does have a picture book, published by Outskirts Press and also set in Louisiana, called Three Little Bayou Fishermen.
Or any hurricane. Examples:
Zane and the Hurricane by Rodman Philbrick.
Upside Down in the Middle of Nowhere by Juie T. Lamana.
Rain Reign by Ann Martin. Publication date: October 7, 2014. My review will appear here at Semicolon on that date, but I will say now that I highly recommend Ms. Martin’s story of a girl and her dog.
Buddy by M.H. Herlong.
Saint Louis Armstrong Beach by Brenda Woods.
I Survived: Hurricane Katrina, 2005 by Lauren Tarshis
I don’t think I’m up for yet another dog/hurricane story (especially since I just read—and loved– an ARC of Ann Martin’s new middle grade novel, Rain Reign, about a beloved dog who gets lost in a hurricane/storm, not Katrina), so you’ll have to get more comparisons somewhere else.