Roaring into the wind, she rants, “Hear me! I am Katrina!” Soon Grace and Essence, two teens will be blown into each others’ lives by the destruction of Hurricane Katrina. Together they will face a swirl of racial prejudice and bigotry as they try to survive the disastrous storm. With the city of New Orleans devastated, Essence comes to live with Grace’s family in Houston where she attends a posh, private school. She is again destroyrf by the reactions of the girls.They don’t want her at their school. What begins as a reading assignment, reading TO KILL a MOCKINGBIRD gains importance as the two teens apply the lessons of tolerance from the classic as they struggle to find their way home again.
Targeted Age Group:: 12-15
What Inspired You to Write Your Book?
For monhs after Hurricane Katrina struck in 2005, I watched scenes from New Orleans on TV. I read about it in newspapers and magazines. I read about it on the internet. I felt the storm swirling around my mind. I felt it was important for kids to know about this storm and its aftermath so I decided to write a YA novel and bring it into classes as a visiting writer. I wrote the novel in many different genres and with varied voices of the storm so kids could also learn new writing techniques when I visit. I use two extended metaphors in the novel to bring both Hurricane Katrina and Hurricane Rita to life as teenage girls. Young writers I work with love to write their own extended metaphors when I visit.
How Did You Come up With Your Characters?
I have taught teens for many years so I imagined two girls, Essence, poor from New Orleans, and Grace, rich from Houston. At first I thought they would never meet, just live parallel lives in the aftermath of the storm, but then Mimmi, Essence’s grandmother began to talk to me and tell me her little girl needed help she could not give her. So they met at the Astrodome in Houston where Essence and her little sister, Chardonnai were evacuated. From these four characters and their tragic circumstances grew all the cast of characters of NOLA GALS.
The sun was trickling through the gap in the roof, revealing from aisle to aisle, from row to row, from section to section the thousands of stranded people of New Orleans. The floor of the arena was a soggy carpet. Hundreds of empty water bottles, drenched blankets, the odd lawn chair, gray plastic bins, ketchup-stained paper plates, black plastic trash bags, bulging suitcases, rickety cots, even a few shopping carts covered the floor, all abandoned when the water had poured through the rafters, sending people scurrying for higher ground. The light skipped over the trash like a police searchlight, revealing mounds of rotting flotsam. Even worse than the sight of the debris was the stench.
“It stinks,” Char whispered to Essence, knowing Mimmi would tell her that was not a polite word. She needed to go to the bathroom really bad, but was holding it in, afraid.
“I know,” Essence said, “but we’ll be gone soon.”
“Where are we going?” asked Char, her brows raised.
“Mrs. Beaudrie, where are we going?” Essence asked.
“Not sure. Folks are saying Texas.”
Just then a tall, thin man came bounding up the stairs. As he made it to Row G, he stopped, spotted Mrs. Beaudrie and her expanded family and announced, “Everyone. Mrs. Beaudrie, we are going to Houston, Texas. Yippee kiyee! Yes, sir. Houston, Texas to the Astrodome.”
“Another damn dome?” Mrs. Beaudrie said, her eyes popping in dismay.
Char sucked in her breath, knowing Mimmi would not approve of such language.
“Where you been, Old Man?” she continued. “Thought you had abandoned me.”
“And your new dozens of kin?” he laughed, gesturing around him. “Pass me that case if you don’t mind.”
The girls leaned forward, hoping there might be water, or even better, more sweets in the precious case Mrs Beaudrie had guarded all night. She leaned over and pulled it out from under her billowy skirt with the big pockets where it had hid all night.
“Girls, this here is Harold’s precious baby,” she said, her eyes twinkling as she passed the case to Harold.
A shadow came over the rip in the roof as Harold leaned over, blocking the sun, his green eyes flashing, his lips breaking into a huge smile which revealed white, white teeth as pearly as old Satchmo’s. Essence touched the photo tucked in her pocket. The sun resumed its search on the arena, shooting a halo around old Harold as he leaned over and said directly to Essence, “Sweet gal, I’m going to play you a tune as sweet as molasses.” It was as if the photo had caught fire, feeding a flush of certainty right to her heart. She knew without a doubt that this man was her daddy. And she knew for sure what he hid in that case.
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