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Finding Someplace: 11/27/15
Finding Someplace by Denise Lewis Patrick is one of many recent tween novels about Hurricane Katrina and her aftermath in New Orleans. Katrina blew ashore on the last weekend of August, 2005. Poor planning on the part of numerous officials all the way up the chain of command combined with a highway system there that doesn't offer many ways of egress, resulted in thousands trapped through the worst flooding in the city in decades.
New Orleans is a tropical place. Water plus heat quickly adds up to unhealthy, unsanitary conditions. The 9th Ward, a primarily Black neighborhood, took the brunt of the flooding and the death toll. Lives were lost. Homes were either flattened or flooded (and over run with black mold and had to be razed), and thousands were displaced. A hyper-conservative and racist government delayed the rescue and recovery response, and later, the FEMA rebuilding.
All of that is in the history books but it's the setting of Finding Someplace. Rather than dwelling on those terrible things, rather than sensationalizing them, the book focuses on a tightly night microcosm of the Ninth Ward.
The main character is a girl turning thirteen. Reesie has a big party planned. She doesn't have time for a hurricane. But her skin starts to prickle when her mother, a nurse, is told to expect extra shifts, and her father, a police officer, is also put on overtime. Though her parents try to arrange a ride for Reesie out of the city the roads in are closed. She is stuck without a way out and must rely on her neighbors during the storm.
Finding Someplace isn't about death, though. It's about survival and recovery against extraordinary odds. The events of the actual hurricane take up about a third of the book. The second third is Reesie trying to stay true to herself while living in a new city where she doesn't fit in and everything she does seems to get her in trouble. The last third is Reesie and her family finally facing what it will take to move back to New Orleans.
So while Hurricane Katrina is the setting and while Reesie's story is inspired by the author's own experiences, the book is more about the human spirit (the good and the bad). It shows more clearly than most any other disaster book I've read, how terrible people can be to each other, especially when large populations are forced to leave their homes. The "welcoming" towns are so often not actually welcoming.
I would recommend using the book as a way to get children talking about other crises, such as the Syrian refugees crises.