Ninth Ward

Ninth Ward

by Jewell Parker Rhodes


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From New York Times bestselling and award-winning author Jewell Parker Rhodes comes a heartbreaking and uplifting tale of survival in the face of Hurricane Katrina.

Twelve-year-old Lanesha lives in a tight-knit community in New Orleans' Ninth Ward. She doesn't have a fancy house like her uptown family or lots of friends like the 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.

From the New York Times bestselling author of Ghost Boys and Towers Falling, Ninth Ward is a deeply emotional story about transformation and a celebration of resilience, friendship, and family—as only love can define it.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780316043083
Publisher: Little, Brown Books for Young Readers
Publication date: 04/10/2012
Pages: 224
Sales rank: 58,179
Product dimensions: 5.20(w) x 7.50(h) x 0.70(d)
Age Range: 10 - 12 Years

About the Author

Jewell Parker Rhodes is the New York Times bestselling and award-winning author of Ninth Ward, a Coretta Scott King honor book, Sugar, winner of the Jane Adams Peace Association book award, Bayou Magic, Towers Falling, and Ghost Boys. She has also written many award-winning books for adults.

Read an Excerpt

Ninth Ward

By Rhodes, Jewell Parker

Little, Brown Books for Young Readers

Copyright © 2010 Rhodes, Jewell Parker
All right reserved.

ISBN: 9780316043076


They say I was born with a caul, a skin netting covering my face like a glove. My mother died birthing me. I would’ve died, too, if Mama Ya-Ya hadn’t sliced the bloody membrane from my face. I let out a wail when she parted the caul, letting in first air, first light.

Every year on my birthday, Mama Ya-Ya tells me the same story. “Lanesha, your eyes were the lightest green. With the tiniest specks of yellow. With them eyes, and that caul, I knew you’d have the sight.” Mama Ya-Ya smacks her lips and laughs. Afterwards, we always have cake. Chocolate. Today, I’m twelve. I’ve eaten three pieces of cake.

Mama Ya-Ya’s eighty-two. Half blind now, she’s still raising me ’cause my relatives won’t. I have a whole family full of uncles, aunts, cousins, nieces, grandmothers, and whatnot. They live in Uptown. Richer than where I live, the Ninth Ward, New Orleans. Less than eight miles apart. It might as well be the moon. Or Timbuktu, wherever that is.

Mama Ya-Ya says my family is scared of me. “Everybody in Louisiana knows there be spirits walking this earth. All kinds of ghosts you can’t see, not unless they want you to. But you, child, you see them. You’ve got the sight. It’s grace to see both worlds,” she says as we wash our birthday dishes, sticky with bits of jambalaya.

“Better you be an orphan, your family thinks. Better crazy Mama Ya-Ya raises you,” she says, sucking air through her false teeth. “Fine. I’m old school. Don’t care nothin’ about folks who dishonor traditions as old as Africa. I’ll be your mother and grandmother both.”

And she is. I love her more than anything in this whole wide world.

I love saying “Mama Ya-Ya.” Her name sounds so bright and happy, just like Mama Ya-Ya is.

And I love how Mama Ya-Ya says my name — “Lanesha.” Soft, with the ah sound going on forever.

Lanesha — that’s the name my mother gave me. Last word she said before she died. I don’t remember hearing it. But I imagine she said it then just like Mama Ya-Ya does now.

Upstairs, I sometimes see my mother’s ghost on Mama Ya-Ya’s bed, her belly big, like she’s forgotten she already gave birth to me.

Like she’s stuck and can’t move on. Like she forgot I was already born.

Just like my Uptown relatives forgot today was my birthday. They always forget.

Me and Mama Ya-Ya wrap the leftover cake in foil. Mama Ya-Ya shuffles towards the living room. I follow her like a shadow. We have been together all day long.

Gardening, we cut sunflowers for the kitchen table. We chopped ham and onions for the jambalaya; then we played cards while the rice cooked. I squeezed lemons for lemonade while Mama Ya-Ya frosted the cake. A perfect day.

I say, “I wish I could see my father. Dead or alive, don’t matter.”

“Lanesha, I don’t know who he is. Or where he is. Or if he still is. Your momma died before she could say. Maybe she didn’t want to say. Don’t know. She weren’t but seventeen. One of them beautiful, light-skinned Fontaine girls. Proud of their French heritage. Uptown’s finest to be sure.

“I think your momma fell in love with a Ninth Ward boy. Rich girl, poor boy. He must’ve been darker, too. For you are a fine brown, Lanesha. Like pralines.”

“Maybe they were secretly married like Romeo and Juliet,” I say. I like the idea of my parents holding hands, being brave, and exchanging rings.

I learned about Romeo and Juliet in school. We don’t have Shakespeare plays, just these little booklets that tell us about the plays. Synopses, my teacher calls them. I don’t believe in Santa Claus anymore, but if I did, I’d ask him to bring me a whole set of Shakespeare books. The real ones, with the real words Shakespeare wrote. Then I wouldn’t have to take the smelly bus to the city library.

The bus also takes me uptown, but not as far uptown as my relatives live. I think about riding further and further, walking up to their house door, and knocking, but I don’t. I get scared that they may not answer.

Instead, I go to the library and try to read The Tragedy of Romeo and Juliet, but it’s too hard. I looked up tragedy in my pocket dictionary. Mama Ya-Ya gave it to me for my birthday last year. TRAGEDY: A CHARACTER IS BROUGHT TO RUIN OR SUFFERS EXTREME SORROWS. I check out the movie Romeo + Juliet for me and Mama Ya-Ya to watch. Hearing the words in the movie, I still don’t understand everything. But I can see Romeo and Juliet’s love, see how their families fought.

The party scene is my favorite. Juliet is dressed so fine in the prettiest long, flowing gown. She wears white angel wings. Romeo wears a silver, glittering knight’s suit with a sword.

They just look at each other from across the room and fall in love.

I think that’s what happened to my parents, too. They must have gone to a party and while the DJ was spinning records, they fell in love. Everybody else cleared the floor, watching my folks dance fast, slow, even hip-hop.

One day, I’ll be able to read all of Shakespeare’s words and understand everything he’s saying. Like star-crossed, which doesn’t mean stars zigzagging across the sky. It means “doomed.”

My parents were star-crossed. That’s why I think my mother is still here, upstairs, a ghost in Mama Ya-Ya’s bed. She’s waiting for the day my dad — ghost or not — claims us both.

Once we’re in the living room and Mama Ya-Ya is settled in her favorite chair — all soft with a blue lap shawl — I say, “I memorized some Shakespeare. Want to hear?”

“Course I do.” She gives me her full attention.

I stand on the old living room carpet, imagining I’m onstage. My hands stretch wide, and I imagine I’m speaking to the whole world. Even if it’s only Mama Ya-Ya watching me. I say, “For never was a story of more woe/Than this of Juliet and her Romeo.” Then, my hands over my heart, I bow my head.

Smiling, Mama Ya-Ya claps, long and hard. “Oh, Lanesha. Your mother and father made magic when they made you.”

Mama Ya-Ya sits back in her chair. Mama Ya-Ya is so tiny, and the chair almost swallows her. Her feet barely touch the floor. Her hair is silver and her skin reminds me of a walnut, all wrinkly brown. On the wall above her head is a picture of her favorite president — William Jefferson Clinton.

Mama Ya-Ya closes her eyes. She does that a lot now. She reminds me of a clock winding down. Her head tilts; her body relaxes in the chair like a balloon losing air.

I take out my birthday gift, a package of sparkly pens Mama Ya-Ya has given me. I pull out the purple ink pen and write:

Romeo + Juliet = Me

Ten times.

I like practicing cursive. It makes me feel grown.

Lanesha Mama Ya-Ya

I like watching Mama Ya-Ya sleep. Sometimes, she twitches with dreams.

If I wanted to wake her, all I’d need to say is “Oprah” and she’d be wide-awake, hollering for her Coke-bottle glasses and for me to turn on the TV. But we’ve celebrated a lot today. She should rest. Every day this summer, we watched Oprah. Mama Ya-Ya says, “Oprah is a southern girl. That’s why she’s got so much sense!”

I like it when Oprah laughs and when she talks about love. I think she must love everybody she knows. I always wonder, if she knew me, would she love me?

This I know for certain: Mama Ya-Ya loves me as the day is long. She is the only one who loves me through and through. When I’m too dreamy, when I don’t finish my chores, when I’m grumpy and sad, Mama Ya-Ya just hugs me a long time. Even when she scolds, she finishes with a hug.

When she holds me that close, I can always smell Mama Ya-Ya’s Vicks Rub and Evening in Paris perfume. Vicks Rub comes in a green bottle and smells of eucalyptus and menthol. It smells cool and tickles my nose. Evening in Paris is in a midnight blue bottle and smells warm like trees mixed with magnolias. It seems like the two would smell bad together, but they don’t. No one makes Evening in Paris anymore. “Soon it’ll all be used up. Like me,” Mama Ya-Ya says every day, dabbing perfume behind her ears. I always shake my head.

This morning, though, Mama Ya-Ya frowned at the mirror like she could see some other world inside it. “Mr. Death is losing patience. He’ll come and ferry me down the Mississippi. I’ll put on my feathered hat. Wave like I’m in a Mardi Gras parade.”

I don’t like to hear Mama Ya-Ya talk like that.

Mama Ya-Ya’s chin is on her chest. She is fast asleep, dreaming.

I put my purple pen back inside the plastic case. I stroke Mama Ya-Ya’s hand. Her head lifts; her eyes flutter.

“Mama Ya-Ya, let me help you to bed,” I say.

“You are a good child.” She pats my cheek. “Did you have a good day? A good birthday day?”

“Yes, ma’am.” It was a good day.

Mama Ya-Ya leans on my right arm. Her cane is shiny ebony with an ivory skull on top. Her fingers wrap around that skull for dear life. We walk slowly — inch by inch, step by step, to her small bedroom (my mother’s ghost is gone). Her bed is a high four-poster with white sheets and yellow quilt. Lace curtains hang limp over the two front windows. There isn’t any breeze. Just stuffy heat and fading sun. Striped green wallpaper covers the walls.

On the nightstand is a glass for her false teeth and blood pressure pills, cod-liver oil, and rosemary leaves. She puts the rosemary in tea to calm her arthritis.

Mama Ya-Ya’s altar is in the far corner. It is a small table filled with flickering candles and statues of Catholic saints and voodoo gods. Her rosary cross is silver, with sparkling blue beads. Next to a plate offering the gods beans and rice is her black midwife bag. The bag is never opened and it never moves. But I know Mama Ya-Ya still touches her bag. She keeps it cleaned, locked with all her birthing stuff inside. Always ready.

I slip Mama Ya-Ya’s black clodhopper shoes off her tiny feet.

“I should be putting you to bed,” she says.

“It’s my turn,” I say, smiling. “’Sides, I never had a baby doll.”

Mama Ya-Ya chuckles. “Are you saying I’m a baby doll?”

I burst out laughing. “No, ma’am.” My cheeks are warm. The thought of Mama Ya-Ya as an overgrown doll tickles me. “Got you,” I say.

“You sure did, Lanesha. Me, a baby doll. Hah! Go on, now. I can take care of myself. Me, a baby doll.” Mama Ya-Ya is puttering, taking her nightgown out the drawer and laying her glasses on the nightstand. She is grinning, muttering, “Baby doll. Big windup toy. Chatty Cathy.” She is happy. Laughing.

“’Night, Mama Ya-Ya.” She doesn’t hear me.

I skip across the hall to my room, happy that I made Mama Ya-Ya laugh.

I plop down on my bed. I love my room.

This summer, Mama Ya-Ya let me paint the walls different shades of blue. One wall is Robin’s Egg Blue. Another, Ocean Blue. Another, Blue Sky. And the wall behind my headboard is Blueberry. I used a rolling brush and it was as easy as rolling pie dough: Back and forth. Up and down. Turn around. Roll the roller in the pan. Back and forth. Up and down. Over and over and over.

My hands were blue for a week. Pieces of my hair, too. I didn’t mind.

I lie back and stretch. The ceiling is bright white, like my bedsheets and comforter. I promised Mama Ya-Ya I wouldn’t get ink on the sheets or dirt on the comforter. And I haven’t. It’s the prettiest room in the whole house!

My room does have puzzle pictures on the wall. I like tiny puzzle pieces with colors on them. I like trying to figure out where they fit. Mama Ya-Ya and I have finished several puzzles together, and some I’ve done all on my own. Afterwards, I glue the pieces together and hang them on the wall. There is a puzzle picture of wild flowers — all yellow, red, orange, and white in a field. There is a picture of a monkey, too, hanging upside down from a tree. My favorite is the picture of a steamboat churning up the Mississippi. I think I’d like traveling by water. Unlike dirt, water seems alive, moving and shifting, always making lapping sounds against the boat and shore. On the right wall, above my dresser, I have a picture of the Eiffel Tower in Paris, all lit up with lights. I like it because it looks like a Christmas tree. It took me months to fit all those itty-bitty pieces of light into something beautiful.

Outside, the sunset has turned from orange to purple. I still have math to finish. It’s the third week of school and I want to get ahead.

I grab my math book. I love flipping through the pages. Squiggly marks everywhere. Plus, +, equal, =, less than, <, greater than, >. Alphabet letters. Numbers.

Since I was at least three, Mama Ya-Ya always said, “Signs everywhere, Lanesha. Pay attention.” And I did. Do.

I learned three apples could be the number 3. In math, the apples can even be a y or an x. Squiggly marks can be symbols. “A sign for something that is more than it is.”

If I was blind, I could even rub my fingers over dots. Braille, it’s called. Raised dots, like pink candy on white sheets, can tell you what elevator button to push, or what door leads to the GIRLS’ BATHROOM, or tell you a story like The Three Little Pigs.

My new English teacher, Miss Perry, and my math teacher, Miss Johnson, both talk about symbols.


Romeo + Juliet

Word and math signs mixed.

But I like Mama Ya-Ya’s signs best: “Ladybugs mean good luck”; “The Little Dipper means freedom. Its handle is the North Star”; “The color blue means strength and friendliness. Happiness.”

Whenever Mama Ya-Ya talks about colors, she’ll put her hands on her hips, cock her head, and tease, “Who loves blue in this house?”

“Me,” I always say.

Doing laundry, cooking, cleaning, Mama Ya-Ya keeps teaching me every day.

“Dreaming about alligators means trouble,” she said this morning. “Numbers mean something, too. Not just math, Lanesha. Three means life. Eight means power. Four means hard work in this here world. The material world. Put them together and they can mean something else.” She smacks her gums. “Put 4 and 8 together and it equals 12. That’s spiritual strength. Real strength, Lanesha. Some people doubt it because they can’t see it on the outside. Like butterflies. To most folks, they seem delicate. But the truth is, butterflies keep changing, no matter what, going from ugly worm to hard cocoon to strong wings.

“Always look for the signs, Lanesha,” she said. “Even flowers. Magnolias mean dignity. Beauty.”

Magnolia trees grow all over our neighborhood. The big trees, with their buttery white petals, bloom sweet all spring.

If Mama Ya-Ya were a flower, I’m pretty sure she’d be a magnolia.

I lean back into my pillows, take out the purple pen, and write in my math notebook.




8 + 4 = 12

All marks — signs — written in my best cursive. Symbols of me.

Who cares about a stupid Uptown family?

Mama Ya-Ya + Lanesha = Love

I Me

Like a butterfly, I am strong.


Excerpted from Ninth Ward by Rhodes, Jewell Parker Copyright © 2010 by Rhodes, Jewell Parker. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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Ninth Ward 4.3 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 73 reviews.
Greg Levins More than 1 year ago
Loved the book. I highly recomend it!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I agree with you all. It is a very inspirational book. The passion and care Laneesha had was amazing.
Staciele on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
The story of Lanesha and Mama Ya-Ya grabbed me right away. Of course, we all know what happens when Hurricane Katrina hits New Orleans, but the author still gives me new glimpses of what it must have been like for families that stayed behind to fight the storm. Her descriptions of the days after the hurricane broke my heart as Lanesha suffered through the toughest parts. I think this is a great Young Adult novel and is an excellent teaching tool of how to be strong when adversity strikes, how other cultures live and about what is really important in the end. Ghosts and seeing into the future were also a part of the story, and while I am not a believer in that, their part of the story was an interesting piece of Lanesha's life.
corydickason on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Ninth Ward is a really stunning novel, encompassing only the few days before and after the storm. Children too young to remember Katrina or who have trouble understanding the gravity of the aftermath will find this young girl easy to relate to.
amandacb on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
While I enjoyed the character of Lanesha and thought it was handled appropriately, I did not enjoy all of the mysticism and ghostly aspects of the novel. I suppose that is part of the Cajun/New Orleans culture (?), but I felt it detracted from the overall experience of the novel and made parts of it unbelievable. Having the novel told from the perspective of someone so young does, of course, leave out details, probably gory ones, that occurred during Katrina--but for the audience level, I think that is appropriate.
jebass on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
This is a beautiful story about an intelligent and sweet little girl named Lenesha, who, upon her mother's death during her birth, was taken in and raised by the local "medicine woman," if you will, Mama Ya-Ya. Mama Ya-Ya loves Lenesha as her own, and encourages Lenesha not to be ashamed of her "gifts"--seeing ghosts, predicting the future to some extent, etc. When Hurricane Katrina comes roaring through New Orleans, Mama Ya-Ya, who is very poor, has no where to go and nowhere to take Lenesha. When the hurricane is over, Mama Ya-Ya, together with the ghost of Lenesha's mother, warn Lenesha that she must get into the attic, take the food they have prepared, and tell her she must "stay strong" if she is going to live through the night and the rising flood waters. Lenesha must use every ounce of strength she can muster to save herself, her friend Tashon, and their shared dog Spot. This book would be perfect for a child who lived through Katrina, to make friends with Lenesha's character through shared experience, or for children to learn about what it was like to live through the storm.
KarenBall on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I see darkness on the horizon. Rolling, rolling in like a too-warm blanket...I shiver. Tell myself not to be afraid. We'll survive the hurricane.Ghosts told me so. Lanesha is 12, and has grown up in the poor neighborhood of New Orleans' Ninth Ward. She lives with Mama YaYa, a healer and midwife who delivered Lanesha, but couldn't save her teenage mother. Lanesha's mother's "uptown family" has never wanted her, but MamaYaya has loved her as if she were her own. Lanesha has always been able to see ghosts, including her mother, who has never left Mama YaYa's house. She is also smart, and loves math and school, even though she has few friends. When Mama YaYa dreams of a storm and a blackness that follows, they are both confused, until Hurricane Katrina appears in the Gulf and advances on the city. They have no money to evacuate, and so they stay in their house, hunkered down with some basic supplies. It's up to Lanesha to use everything she has learned, from school, from Mama YaYa, and from the ghosts, in order to survive the storm and the flood that follows. Beautifully written historical fiction, with magical realism and some of the best characters around! Lanesha is one of the most courageous and resilient girls I have ever read about. 6th grade and up.
bplma on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
12 year old Lanesha lives in New Orlean's Ninth Ward. Her mother died in childbirth and she is being raised by Mama YaYA-- an 82 yr. old midwife and healer who keeps to the old ways. Lanesha is a powerful seer-- she sees ghosts everywhere-- her house, her school, her neighborhood--the other kids are afraid of her and so, always different-- Lanesha keeps to herself. When Hurricane Katrina hits New Orleans, Lanesha needs to stay strong and focused and trust in all she has learned in order to save herself and those she loves. Beautifully written and well paced ---a coming of age story (of sorts) in the eye of Katrina. For Middle School a
jayegee on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
The story makes a good attempt to shocase life after Katrina, the reader must remeber it is a child's point of view. The storyline is unrealistic of the nature of Katrina's sudden aftermath. It doesn't convey the pain.
DayehSensei on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
A poetic, mystical and suspenseful story set in New Orleans, August 2005. Rhodes' text features 12 year old Lanesha and her beloved caretaker Mama Ya-Ya and their struggles the week before Hurricane Katrina and during the storm. While the book focuses on the horror and hardship of the hurricane, Lanesha's own personal struggles are an equal focal point-- self acceptance, dreams for the future, missing her deceased mother. This story will captivate upper elementary and middle school readers everywhere. While it features fantastical elements (Lanesha and Mama Yaya can both see and communicate with ghosts; Mama Yaya can predict the future), the story is incredibly real and heart wrenching.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I love this book. It was sad at some parts and it made me cry. A must read r every one.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This is bahd
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
SO AMAZING AND SAD!!!! :-) ;-)
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This book is like soooo good.....soooooo like yeah....
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
If i had to rate it on a scale of 0 to 100 it would be 200!!
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