Upside Down in the Middle of Nowhere

 
(i)

 

Unflinching story of girl who survives Katrina.

What parents need to know

Educational value

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.

Positive messages

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

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. 

Sex
Not applicable
Language
Not applicable
Consumerism

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.

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. 

Parents say

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What's the story?

It's Friday, August 26, 2005, and Armani Curtis is turning 10 years old tomorrow. When her family hears news of Hurricane Katrina coming closer to New Orleans, Armani's only thought is that she hopes it doesn't mess up her birthday party. Armani has an especially close relationship with her grandmother, and her parents are kind and understanding of her excitement about her birthday, but even they can't deny the magnitude of the coming storm. As the storm grows bigger and almost immediately causes death and loss, Armani's birthday becomes a distant memory and she must focus only on the survival of her family. Several tragic events separate Armani from her parents, and she is left on her own with her two younger sisters depending on her to keep them safe. The three narrowly escape the chaos of the Superdome and are bused outside the city to a shelter where Armani must figure out whether or not to trust various grown-ups claiming they have Armani's best interests at heart.

Is it any good?

QUALITY
 

Armani's close-knit relationship with her family is the centerpiece of UPSIDE DOWN IN THE MIDDLE OF NOWHERE, 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.

Families can talk about...

  • Families can talk about the media attention given to the need for children's books with diverse characters. Why do you think the publishers chose to picture Armani's rain boots on the cover when there are so few books that show African-American characters on the cover?

  • Why do you think so many kids' books have been written about Hurricane Katrina? Have you read others? If so, how does this one compare?

  • What do you think of the strong dialect in the story? Does it add realism to the setting, or do you find it distracting? 

Book details

Author:Julie T. Lamana
Genre:Historical Fiction
Topics:Adventures, Brothers and sisters, History
Book type:Fiction
Publisher:Chronicle Books
Publication date:April 8, 2014
Number of pages:320
Publisher's recommended age(s):8 - 12
Available on:Nook, Hardback, iBooks, Kindle

This review of Upside Down in the Middle of Nowhere was written by

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Quality

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  • Good: Pretty engaging; good learning approach.
  • Fair: Somewhat engaging; OK learning approach.
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  • Not for Kids: Not age-appropriate for kids; not recommended for learning.

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Kid, 12 years old July 3, 2015
 

Sad, but a great story

I liked reading this story, though it nearly made me cry in some sections. Her family didn't get out before the hurricane hit and the book tells how she took care of her siblings without help from her parents. It shows the fear of all the people, how selfish some were, and how caring others were. Over all this was a great read, has great role models and educational value.
What other families should know
Educational value
Great messages
Great role models
Too much violence

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