Upside Down in the Middle of Nowhere/Julie T. Lamana (Chronicle Books): Reflections

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Earlier this year I went to New Orleans to visit a loved former student and see a city I'd always wanted to see. It was three hot days of swirl and color, music and sweet agitations, and on our final morning, Katie drove my husband and me to the Ninth Ward where Katrina had done so much of her damage. We saw vestiges of wreckage. We saw the gleam of the new. I thought a lot about the victims of the storm, and wondered again what they had lived through.

This morning I finished reading Upside Down in the Middle of Nowhere, Julie T. Lamana's debut middle grade novel, set to be published by Chronicle Books and my own dear editor Tamra Tuller next April. Anyone of any age who wishes to understand what it is like to be inside a terrible storm, to feel guilty about losses, to wonder where a family has gone, to lose and to gain, must read this story. Lamana was working as an after-school literary specialist when Katrina struck. She was there. She knows, first hand. She has produced a captivating story about a girl who proudly turns ten when we first meet her and then wishes, as the storm blows in, that she could be but a child again, a girl not so responsible for making such impossible choices.

Lamana writes with richness about the color of the sky, the sound of wind, the smells of despair. She gives us an up close look at a family we love from the start—and we root for them, we ache for them, we cry. Lamana writes magnificently about friendships, too, and about sitting with a grandmother upon an old swing porch, and about little girls who love their fathers:

I ran to Daddy and wrapped my arms around his waist, grateful to have him back inside with us. As I hugged him, I could see that the outside world had took on an orangey-pink look. It was a color I ain't never seen in no crayon box before. It was beautiful. The half-gone trees, the sky, the beat-up houses, even the people I seen roaming around outside—everything had took on the swirly orangey-pink color. I stepped to the side of Daddy with my mouth open wide, just gazing at the sight of it all.
I can't wait for all of you to have a chance to read this book. I post these reflections early, to put my own claim to its glories out among you first.


Serena said...

This sounds sooo good...must read.

Shelley Souza said...

It is fantastic. I had the privilege of reading it early on. It's exactly the kind of book I would have loved as a child of nine or ten. Although the writing and the situation is very different, the depth of Julie Lamana's understanding of how a child might think reminds me of Ian Serraillier's The Silver Sword; which I read when I was about ten, and has remained one of my favourite childhood books.

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