Zane and the Hurricane: A Story of Katrina

Book review by
Mary Eisenhart, Common Sense Media
Zane and the Hurricane: A Story of Katrina Book Poster Image
Boy and dog face danger, find friends in fast-paced tale.

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Educational Value

As they follow Zane's adventures, which are drawn from the accounts of many real-life survivors, readers will learn a great deal about the impact of Hurricane Katrina and its aftermath on the residents of New Orleans. They'll also pick up quite a bit about the local culture, from the dialect to the customs, e.g. jazz funerals, as well as the city's complex racial and ethnic heritage. Supplemental information at the end of the book gives more detail about the history of the hurricane and its aftermath.

Positive Messages

Strong messages about sticking with those who depend on you, human and otherwise; love of friends and family; courage and resourcefulness; and learning that some people are capable of great evil, but others are unexpectedly kind.

Positive Role Models & Representations

Zane's a believable 12-year-old kid who argues with his mom and makes snarky remarks about things he doesn't like (reluctantly visiting New Orleans from his home in New Hampshire, he calls the Southern city "Smellyville"). But he loves his mom and is developing a good relationship with his great-grandmother when the hurricane strikes. Post-hurricane, he also makes friends with the old man and little girl who rescue him, and they all help one another through hardship and danger. Probably his greatest bond, though, is with his dog Bandy: "Mom says me and Bandy have some kind of boy-dog mind meld thing, like we can read each other's thoughts. I don't know about that, but for sure that little dog seems to know what I'm going to do before I do, which is maybe kind of weird but also really cool." Often against his mom's wishes, Zane refuses to be separated from Bandy, and thanks to their strong bond, the boy and dog save each other's lives more than once.


Zane and his friends encounter violence and danger, paralleling real events in New Orleans post-Katrina: Vigilantes and local police wave guns as displaced New Orleanians seek food and safety. A security guard points a gun in Zane's face, and ultimately a beloved character is shot. A local drug lord makes numerous attempts to kidnap 11-year-old Malvina. There are also scary things in the floodwaters, from dead bodies to swarming snakes, one of which leaps into the boat. Zane learns of the mysterious death of an uncle who "got hisself killed." 


Stuck in the house as the floodwaters rise, Zane berates himself: "Nice going you moron, you crud bucket, you dumb-butt dipstick doodlebrain." Many references to the stink of pee and poop amid nonexistent plumbing, especially at the Superdome.


Zane mentions his Nikes are the only shoes he has with him. Mr. Tru, who rescues Zane, is a musician who plays backup for famous local artists including the Neville Brothers, Harry Connick Jr., and Wynton Marsalis.

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

Malvina's mother is constantly in rehab because of her drug habit; a local drug dealer who survives the hurricane is trying to kidnap Malvina to keep her from talking about his activities.

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that Zane and the Hurricane: A Tale of Katrina, by Newbery Honor-winning author Rodman Philbrick, uses the narratives of many Hurricane Katrina survivors as the foundation of the harrowing, inspiring tale of a 12-year-old New Hampshire boy and his beloved dog who get caught up in the disaster. Reflecting real-life events, Zane encounters many dangers, from the floodwaters to gun-toting vigilantes to the local drug lord, but also finds love, kindness, and friendship in the most unexpected places. One character's mother is always in rehab, and drugs are not presented positively (no drug use is shown). The story does have some scary scenes (including snakes in the flood and the local drug lord trying to kidnap Zane's friend), and raises provocative issues, from race to complete infrastructure collapse, that affected the people caught up in the disaster. There's no strong language or sexual content.

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What's the story?

Twelve-year-old New Hampshire boy Zane Dupree never knew his African-American father, who died in an accident before he was born, and his mom has never been able to find any of his paternal relatives. That all changes thanks to a website that connects them with his great-grandmother in New Orleans, who had raised his dad back in the day. He reluctantly agrees to spend the last week of summer with her in New Orleans, but only if his beloved dog Bandy gets to come along. Unbeknownst to any of them, Hurricane Katrina's bearing down on the city, and Zane's barely had a chance to get acquainted with Miss Trissy before they have to flee for their lives with her pastor in the church van. When a terrified Bandy leaps out the window, Zane instinctively goes after him, and soon the two are trapped in Miss Trissy's house as the floodwaters rise.

Is it any good?

In ZANE AND THE HURRICANE: A STORY OF KATRINA, author Rodman Philbrick follows his successful formula of placing an appealingly real young character in the midst of momentous events. While the story is fast-paced and full of peril, it's also packed with local culture, from music and jazz funerals to complex racial history. Zane's adventures, drawn from real-life experiences of Katrina survivors -- from raw sewage and dead bodies everywhere to cops and vigilantes shooting on sight -- may provoke some interesting discussion of why things came to such a pass, and why much of the city remained in dire straits years later.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about disaster preparedness. What kinds of natural disasters are likely in your area? Does your family have a disaster plan -- and a backup if things don't go according to plan?

  • Why do you think disasters are such a popular theme in stories? What other disaster stories do you know about, and how does this one compare?

  • What do you know about Hurricane Katrina? Do you know any people who survived the disaster? What were their experiences?

Book details

Our editors recommend

For kids who love historical fiction and coming-of-age stories

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