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A Lot or a Little?
What you will—and won't—find in this book.
Kids will learn about Hurricane Katrina and the devastation it brought to so many families, especially in the mostly African-American neighborhood of the Lower Ninth Ward region of New Orleans. Hearing about this from a kid's point of view will make the experience seem particularly real.
Facing a difficult situation can make you a stronger person. Hard times can bring strangers together. Keep family and friends close. Sometimes you need to trust others to help you.
Positive Role Models
Armani is at first resentful of the hurricane and worried only that it will ruin her 10th birthday. However, as she encounters difficulty after difficulty and is thrust into the role of responsible caretaker of her younger sisters, she grows and realizes she has to be strong for them, no matter how afraid she is on the inside. Though sometimes the burden of being responsible for her sisters overwhelms her, Armani never lets them know, and she is fiercely protective of them.
Violence & Scariness
The violence in Upside Down in the Middle of Nowhere is mostly the violence of nature, but it is no less horrifying. Armani and her siblings see a neighbor killed by a tree blowing down. Later, the neighborhood that Armani grew up in is flattened when the levees break and the hurricane waters wash over the Lower Ninth Ward. Many people, including some of Armani's loved ones, die because of the hurricane. Some of the violence that occurred in the Superdome, including rape, is implied but not described directly. Armani's cousin is verbally abused by her father and has been slapped by her mother for misbehaving.
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Products & Purchases
Coca-Cola, McDonald's, Tabasco, Jell-O, Zapp's potato chips.
Drinking, Drugs & Smoking
Armani's uncle is an alcoholic and verbally abuses his daughter, Armani's cousin and best friend.
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Parents Need to Know
Parents need to know that Upside Down in the Middle of Nowhere is a unflinching look at the devastating repercussions of Hurricane Katrina on the Lower Ninth Ward, the mostly African-American community that was hit especially hard by the storm. The protagonist is a 10-year-old African-American girl named Armani, whose family loses their home, and she must make difficult decisions that affect her and her siblings' survival. The violence of nature is harsh and vivid, as when Armani and her siblings see a neighbor killed by a tree blowing down. Some of Armani's loved ones die, and she sees many horrible sights in the aftermath of the storm. Armani comes out of the experience as a stronger and kinder person, but her sorrow over her losses will take a long time to process. The characters speak in a strong local dialect, which may be off-putting or distracting for some readers.
Is It Any Good?
Armani's close-knit relationship with her family is the centerpiece here, and it's what makes this story so powerful and relatable as Armani faces an extreme situation most kids won't experience. The day before the storm and her birthday, Armani's family is depicted as warm and loving but not perfect: Armani is easily annoyed by her four siblings and often feels jealous of the attention they get from her parents and her grandma. Her almost constant grouchiness with her brothers and sisters can be grating, but it makes it all the more meaningful when the storm comes and Armani realizes just how devastated she will be if she loses any of them. Though the writer's overuse of dialect in the dialogue can be distracting, the continuous action and the overwhelming enormity of the problems Armani is forced to solve will draw readers in.
Because this book is based on a real historical event, it's disappointing that there's no author's note explaining what is fact and what is fiction in Armani's story, but some readers may be inspired to research the real people and places affected by the storm. Given the recent media attention to the lack of diversity in children's books, it's disappointing there are no African-American faces on the cover and that the publisher instead chose to depict Armani's rain boots.
Did we miss something on diversity?
Research shows a connection between kids' healthy self-esteem and positive portrayals in media. That's why we've added a new "Diverse Representations" section to our reviews that will be rolling out on an ongoing basis. You can help us help kids by suggesting a diversity update.