Like the rest of America, I watched the events of Hurricane Katrina unfold on television. Though I probably had a tad more insight than most- due to a friend (who is an RN) being stuck in a downtown New Orleans hospital-I was still safe and sound with my family hundreds of miles away from the action.
Reading this caused my personal memories of Katrina to resurface. I remember being glued to the TV, horrified by the things that were happening in the Superdome. I remember wondering why, with current technologies providing weeks of advance notice, there were still so many people stuck there. I remember seeing those people stranded in the Superdome scream out for help, and how they were blaming every person and agency imagineable for their pain and suffering. When my husband and I headed to Slidell and Mandeville (cities on the North Shore of Lake Pontchartrain) with my best friend and her extended family to do what little we could to help, I remember the unfathomable amount of devastation, the sweltering heat, the feeling of helplessness, and most vividly the disgusting stench of rotten food and human waste and death and disease.
This book transformed me (in the magic way that books do) into a 17 year old black teenager who took shelter with his family in the Superdome during Katrina. I experienced-through Miles- the terror of having to pay off gangs of thugs to prevent them from burning my things and beating up my family. I breathed the smell of 100+ degree heat saturated with feces and urine. I saw a man, so overcome with the heat and filth and hunger, commit suicide. I had to step over crack pipes in the bathroom, and eventually bought pills from a hussler to keep me from having to go to the bathroom at all. Providing the reader with a thorough experience of Katrina's Superdome is what this book did best. I was hypnotized by the story, and found myself hurting so deeply for the people who went through such a terrible ordeal. I thought that Volponi tripped and stumbled a tiny bit, though, when he gave these characters dialogue that insists the color of their skin was the reason they were there. Throughout the book I flip-flopped between wondering if he was just using those statements to make it more real, or whether he was trying to make a statement.
Hurricane Song also has another story about the relationship between Miles and his jazz musician father. A little cheesy, I'll fully admit, but a nice addition to the pressure and stress of the Superdome horror show.
I do wish that Volponi had included more about the history of New Orleans. It is an incredibly unique and significant city, and while Hurricane Song has the teen's attention (and it will), they might as well learn something! *Lots of harsh language in this one, people. Nothing that teenagers don't hear in the hallway at school, but it's enough for me to make a point about it.
This is Volponi's web site, and a fantastic resource to read more about his motivation for writing Hurricane Song.