TEEN LIBRARIAN'S REVIEW:
Paul Volponi's timely novel "Hurricane Song" lets us experience firsthand some of the degradation, fear, and confusion experienced by New Orleans residents who evacuated to the Superdome to escape Hurricane Katrina's devastation. While slim in size, this book leaves a powerful impression.
Miles is a transplanted New Orleanian, having only recently come to the city to live with his jazz musician father, Doc. Unlike his dad, who lives and breathes jazz, Miles is more interested in football. He's only come to New Orleans because his newly remarried mom has literally run out of living space for him. While in New Orleans, Miles rarely sees his dad, even while living in the same apartment, and they struggle to make any meaningful conversation. Miles often suspects his dad will never love him with the depth and passion that he reserves for jazz.
As Hurricane Katrina approches New Orleans, Miles, Doc, and his Uncle Roy try to drive out of the city in search of a safe haven up north. After the car dies while idling for hours in traffic, the three end up in the Superdome, a covered football stadium hastily converted to house storm evacuees. While the National Guard is supposedly in charge of the facility, it quickly becomes apparent to Miles and his family that mob rule is in effect. Roving gangs — including several of Miles' football teammates — set fires, vandalize the building, commit assaults, and rob and terrorize the other evacuees. At the same time, the stadium is plunged into repeated darkness, clogged bathrooms overflow and become stench-filled swamps, dead bodies are left to fester in the brutal indoor heat, and there is little if any food to be found. In the midst of all this chaos and violence, a mentally deranged man leaps to his death from the upper deck seats, much to the horror of his daughter and grandchildren. Doc, Uncle Roy, and a local preacher organize a modified jazz funeral for the man, with Miles banging away on an African drum his father gave him. Later, Miles and Doc leave the Superdome only to discover that conditions in the city are even worse than they feared.
Author Paul Volponi does a masterful job of conveying the suffocating horror experienced by Hurricane Katrina evacuees at the Superdome. He provides harrowing descriptions of the rank conditions while also exploring the issues of race and class that combined to make Katrina a disaster on so many levels. "Hurricane Song" would be a wonderful novel and gripping piece of social commentary only for these reasons. Even better, though, Volponi gives us great insight into both the worst of human nature (the Superdome thugs and the twitchy, hostile National Guardsmen) and the best (the dignity of the preacher and the bravery of Miles in standing up to the mob). By the end of this short novel, Miles and Doc have begun to find common ground in both music and family, and they start to form the bonds of a real, lasting relationship. Their personal journey in the shadow of one of America's most shameful incidents will be appreciated by both boys and girls in grades seven and higher.