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Practically Paradise
Inside Practically Paradise

Hurricane Song by Paul Volponi

Hooray! During ALA annual I snagged a copy of Hurricane Song: a novel of New Orleans by Paul Volponi aViking/Penguin group publication for 2008.  Targeting teenagers (not preteens), I’d heard the buzz and couldn’t wait to read this short novel. The YaYaYa’s interviewed Paul for the Winter Blog Blast Tour and helped raised the excitement.
Do a search and you find Hurricane Song by Allen Watty and a list of charity songs for Hurricane Katrina Relief on Wikipedia. There are many YouTube videos still available to enable students to view the video footage of this disaster, but these are overwhelming and hardly believable to teens three years later. Teens need ways to relate to survival. This novel focuses on one family’s survival in the Superdome. The details and tragedies are not spared. The suffering is intense. The author provokes reader emotional responses with simplistic phrasing.

WBRZ News 2 the Advocate reviewed and included these statements "Volponi is sensitive in his treatment of racial issues, and he seems to get the facts straight. But let’s hope there isn’t a sequel." If I read the review correctly, the devastation from this hurricane and torment suffered is what we don’t want repeated. Paul Volponi’s insights into violence and tense situations deserve further development. 

Colleen Mondor’s Chasing Ray blog review is one of the few I’ve found. Be sure to read the author’s notes which seem to have been inspired by Colleen’s questions. Most people have marked this title on their list of "books to read" on  Perhaps they are waiting for the 3 year anniversary August 29th. 

Hurricane Song deserves to be on your shelves. The length of the book makes it approachable. Told from the perspective of a black athletic boy trying to find his place in the family, this title screams to be read. Musicians will find much to relate. The focus on one family’s choices and changes helps readers better extend themselves into the characters. The disaster of Katrina, the absolute travesty of response time to relieve suffering, and the unbelievable stories/videos of people acting without civilization – looting, raping, murdering, etc. – were further compounded by the racial tensions. Hurricane Song’s limited focus enable us to more deeply explore one aspect – surviving in the Superdome.

Last year I traveled through parts of the hardest hit areas of New Orleans two years after Hurricane Katrina. The lack of progress, the sense of futility, and the resentment of people still waiting for help in rebuilding was overwhelming. I saw many places where trailers had stood; others where families still dwelt. I traveled through neighborhoods of $350,000 homes where they haven’t rebuilt because the levees haven’t been strengthened enough to satisfy insurance agents. The owners can’t imagine rebuilding to face another hurricane and breeched levees again.

I traveled through parts of the lower wards where you could see isolated homes being rebuilt, but block after block of destroyed homes sitting vacant. The community and business infrastructure was not restored to support largescale returns. If you are poor and don’t have a car, how can you obtain groceries if there are no stores within walking distance. 

I traveled with rebuilders – people who support the church camps of weekly volunteers who travel to New Orleans for 1-2 week shifts. The rebuilders took me to see how they were gutting homes, the requirements that must be met before families can return, and the frustration of owners who are required to keep their lawns mowed or they’ll lose their homes – even while they are working full-time and trying to rebuild at night. 

One of the most interesting ladies I met was sitting on the front steps of her home. Every morning she left the trailor she shared with her son and family to sit on the steps of her damaged home and greet her neighbors. Her home was not yet rebuilt and wasn’t fit to live in, but she continued to go there every day. Why? She was in her late 80’s and she’d been sitting on her front porch for over 30 years chatting with neighbors every day. That was her life. The rebuilders I was with simply drove up to her house, hopped out and handed her a cold beer while they chatted. She filled them in on how many families had newly started work on their homes and who needed a hand. The rebuilders know she’ll make sure these families get on the lists to receive help. Drywalling? Painting? Mowing? Roofing? Stripping the walls to the frame? The rebuilders are there to assist the families. But, there is too much work and not enough volunteers or supplies.

We talk about studying history to prevent repeating the mistakes of the past. Middle schoolers need Hurricane Song to prevent the same types of mistakes in the future. After viewing evidence of corruption, waste, and inefficiency, who will write the book for politicans to read to prevent their mistakes?