Thursday, April 17, 2014

Review - "Zane and the Hurricane"

I don’t know if it is coincidence that Zane and the Hurricane is the third middle grade novel about Hurricane Katrina that concerns a boy and his dog, but it is a little strange.  It’s as if the devastation caused by the storm and the aftermath isn’t enough to rile our sympathies, we need man’s best friend thrown in the mix as well.  The presence of these dogs don’t lessen the quality of the books (like Saint Louis Armstrong Beach by Brenda Woods), but I do find the repetition interesting.

Now that I’ve gotten that out of my system, I can talk about Rodman Philbrick’s Zane and the Hurricane with a clear head.  Recipient of three starred reviews, Zane has been one of the highlights of the first quarter of the year, and a title bandied about in Newbery conversations.

Zane wasn’t expecting an experience to change his life when he went down the New Orleans (which he quickly renames, “Smellyville”) to visit with his long-lost great-grandmother Miss Trissy.  But shortly after Zane’s arrival, the tragedy of Hurricane Katrina begins to unfold.  Through a sequence of events involving Zane’s dog, Bandy, Zane ends up separated from Miss Trissy and fighting the rising waters with a musician named Tru and a scrappy girl named Malvina.  This unlikely trio battles the elements of nature and human nature to try and find safety in the midst of a meltdown.

Zane and the Hurricane is a quick read, the words slipping off the pages like running water, leaving the reader scrambling to keep up.  This strategy works in its favor, allowing the reader to experience the story without being stuck in the catastrophe.  We live events as Zane would have lived them, head-on and a little confused.  Philbrick walks a thin line between drama and sensationalism, and for the most part, Zane’s story rings true.  A few of the characters are stereotypical stand-ins, but the duo of Zane and Malvina are fully realized, shining characters (Malvina reminded me quite strongly of Hushpuppy from the 2012 film Beasts of the Southern Wild).

Zane and the Hurricane may not break the Katrina middle grade mold, but it is an excellent addition to the conversation.

Zane and the Hurricane: A Story of Katrina by Rodman Philbrick
2014, The Blue Sky Press
Preview copy provided by publisher for review

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