Monday, October 13, 2014

Upside Down in the Middle of Nowhere by Julie T. Lamana

Relationships are the centerpiece of this story that slowly builds like a tropical cyclone. Ten-year-old Armani is a cumulonimbus cloud full of sass, courage, and emotion. While her siblings irritate her, she would also do anything to protect them. When Hurricane Katrina hits the Ninth Ward and wipes out all that she knows, she has to deal with guilt and protecting her brothers and sisters that are younger than her.

Students will like this great adventure story. The start shows a loving, large family that is enjoying their daughter's tenth birthday when the wicked storm hits New Orleans. Armani adores her grandma and gets tired of sharing her with her other siblings. She fights the most with her older brother that teases her. Armani doesn't know how to handle it except to yell at him. In fact, she yells quite a bit at her siblings as a way of dealing with her frustration of sharing everything and everyone. Her heart is good though. If she's not protecting seven-year-old Sealy on the bus from bullies, she's teaching her infant twin brother and sister how to make the love sign, or comforting her scared grandma, or sticking up for her cousin against a drunk dad. Her hurricane-like personality can be ferocious at times.

The author slows down the writing in spots and brings in the senses making small moments special. One of my favorites is when Armani is doing the dishes and her baby sister rolls a mini-toy car over her foot. It's always fun when an author shows a non-stereotyped character such as the twin sister that loves her brother's cars while he has nothing to do with them. When the baby sister teases Armani, Armani playfully tosses a dishrag at her only to hit her grandma in the face. "I grabbed the wet, red-checkered dishrag out of the soapy water and threw it at her. But she scooched quick around the corner. Just then, Memaw [grandma] came walking toward me around that same corner. The slopping-wet rag slapped her smack in the middle of her face and stuck there like flypaper." The dialogue in the book uses a dialect that some might struggle with reading, but it adds to the unique character's voices. When the hurricane hits, the terror and smells come to life in the details that make the book hard to put down.

The author captures how young people don't always know how to communicate when their feelings are hurt and it would make for good discussions. At the table when Georgie laughs at Armani for believing a cow had a chicken, she screams at him because she is embarrassed. Later she shouts at her sister because her grandma was going to tell her something important about her cousin's mother and then was unable. (We never did find out the answer to that question.) As a middle child of five siblings, I remember being mean just because I was tired of sharing with them all the time. And tired of being picked on. Some days were survival of the fittest and I was nasty to protect my turf. Later Armani and her sister yell at each other but its because Armani thinks they will be separated. Hurtful things are said but later they make up. This is the heart and soul of this novel. How the family works together. They fight, but also care deeply for each other.

I didn't particularly like the start or the end of the book. On the bus Armani is annoyed with her cousin that is big, braggie, and bossy. She kept talking about her big butt and I thought... great we are getting a book with a girl that is a mean name-caller. Armani goes overboard at times and turned me off with her meanness, but then she shows how her attitude gives her strength and courage. She is a flawed character and it makes her more real and interesting in the end. Luckily the author balances enough of her mouthy, disrespectfulness, with redeeming qualities. I found myself admiring her for not collapsing in the midst of an incredibly stressful circumstance and being so young. She grows up quickly learning to be responsible and trust others.

The end of the book was somewhat abrupt. I had questions for Georgie about what happened with the dog and dad. TayTay had her own story that is never told. I wanted to find out what happened to Uncle T-Bone. I wasn't sure what was going to happen with the Bromans. By the way, it seemed that the older Broman, Matthew, was interested romantically in Armani. I think I might have mistaken the author's showing that Matthew just admires her. She is only a 4th grader and I was never sure of Matthew's age. I actually mixed him up with the fifteen-year-old boy in the shelter. I wouldn't think he was that old. Danisha was another character I wanted to meet again and I would have really liked some author's notes at the end explaining how she mixed her facts and fiction. I didn't know that the Dome was so dangerous. I looked up facts on my own and discovered what a mess it was inside there.

This book is like a levee of emotions flooding the reader. Its emotional pull is going to appeal to many of the students at our school. Oftentimes I recommend: Wonder, Okay for Now, One for the Murphys, Rules, Out of My Mind.  Now I can add this book to the list.

4 Smileys

No comments:

Post a Comment