by Jewell Parker Rhodes
First sentence: “My name is Madison Isabelle Lavalier Johnson.”
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Review copy provided by the publisher in conjunction with the ABA Children’s Institute.
Content: It’s a pretty basic story, and aside from some French scattered through, it’s pretty basic in its vocabulary. I’d give it to anyone 2nd grade and up. It’s in the middle grade (grades 3-5) section of the bookstore.
Not-quite-ten-year-old Maddy is the youngest of five sisters in New Orleans. She’s the one that is always the tag-along, never quite fitting in with her sisters. She is often teased, and the only time she feels comfortable is when she’s cooking with her mom. Then, her turn to spend the summer in Bon Temps, in the Louisiana bayou, with Grandmère comes around. At first, Maddy doesn’t know what to expect: her sisters all spent summers with Grandmère and came back with horror stories. But Maddy is different: she likes the quiet, earthy nature of Grandmère and the bayou. She wants to learn the old ways. And she finds friends and adventure there. And magic.
Rhodes simple, lyrical style was really well suited to this story. I loved the earthy feel of the book, and the connection to old stories and family roots. I loved the mix of African and French, of Creole and magic and modern. The environmental crisis aspect of it wasn’t as important as the back blurb led me to believe — it was really just tacked on at the end — but the theme of caring for and connecting to the earth was prominent and important for the story. At first, I thought that this could pass for “realistic” fiction, that maybe the mermaids Maddy saw were just dreams and imagination, but no: this is speculative. And it worked for me. I loved seeing Maddy grow and learn and develop, and yet she was still a 10-year-old girl with all the concerns and abilities of that.
I haven’t ever read Ninth Ward, but I think I need to, now. I’ve come to really love Rhodes simple style.