Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Hurricane Song by Volponi

I finished this book yesterday and it is still resonating with me. I can't say that it is piece of literary excellence, but it is a tremendously honest portrayal of the circumstance in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina. The description of life for these refugees in the Super Dome was horrific. I remember when this tragedy occurred, I was saddened, and sent money for relief...but I don't think the intensity of the situation hit me until I read this novel. The human suffering, extortion, gangs, violence...very intense.

Having said that, I think that was the best part of the novel, by far! I thought the secondary plot line that featured the relationship between Miles and his father was a bit contrived. But, I certainly felt that the author did a good job of getting us to feel Mile's disappointment in his relationship with his father, but doesn't develop it enough for my liking. Overall, I felt that the characters and their relationships take a back seat to the telling of the hurricane story. For that alone I felt this to be a valuable book! So many of our students lead difficult lives, a book like this could help us to see beyond our own tragedies, to see a more global picture. I would like to think it would foster a more empathetic view of others.

And, as always, you know me...I loved the epilogue! I thought this did a nice job of tying things together and fleshing out a bit more of the father's character.

I would have liked the author to have addressed where he obtained his information. Was it from a first hand account? Interviews with evacuees?

The fact that this was a short, fast-paced novel with lots of action would make it a great pick for reluctant readers...and a male protagonist doesn't hurt. I also think it would be a great book for using for discussion of sociology, American history, racism...lots of points for discussion. I could see this a great literature circle book, or a class read for freshmen or 15:1 ELA.

Anxious to see what you all think...and our timing was interesting, I actually read the book on the day of Mardi Gras!


Dawn said...

I really was looking forward to reading this book after I heard what it was about. I liked it but was somewhat disappointed too. Maybe I like to see the world through rose-colored glasses. I always thought that when a huge tragedy occurs, people tend to come together in a positive way. I was disappointed to read about the violence that was taking place in the Super Dome. I do understand that people were trying to survive and doing whatever they could to survive given the circumstances. I understand that the people were so desperate, but I hoped that it would bind people together and create friendships vs. turning on people and calling them racist.

I felt that it was unrealistic when Miles followed his Pop out of the Super Dome to find their home. I wonder if they could get out as easily as they did. The violence on the streets seemed more realistic than the violence within the Super Dome. The description of the body floating in the water was gross and very sad. It was almost like Miles wanted to help but knew it was too late, and he was afraid of the diseases that the body may carry. Eventually someone had to collect the dead bodies and try to identify them. It was creepy to think of stuff like that.

As for the relationship between Miles and Pop, I thought it was not developed enough. I started to feel for Miles when he felt his father liked music more than him but then Miles would focus on football more than family. I wanted something to happen and just felt like I was let down in this area.

With that said, I do think this book could be used for a lower level reader. It may be a topic of interest to students because they may remember the tragedy. It would go well with research on hurricanes in general or more specifically Hurricane Katrina. As Kathy said in her blog, I want to know more about where the author obtained his information. Pairing the book with research would possibly clear up some of the questions students may have as they read.

Kathy J. said...

Dawn really made a great connection- pairing this book with a research project. This would be a great way to get students to research the real situation in the south during and after Katrina...and they could then discuss how accurately, or not, the author depicted the situation. Hmmmm....

Maria said...

I liked that this book was fast paced and reader friendly for reluctant readers. I, too, felt the father/son relationship was under developed and was left looking for more. However, it does show that adults can have a life and a passion outside of their families, but that there needs to be a balance of the two. One should not have to choose one over the other.

Like Kathy, I also was captured by the horrors inside the Super Dome and wondered if this was just fiction or based on accounts of actual people. Serious issues, like suicide, rape, mental health issues, gangs, racism, violence,the expectation of government, etc., were touched upon in this book. These could be great discussion starters. The idea that a catastrophe can tear people apart or bring them together is another topic worth discussing. I like to put myself in the shoes of those in the middle of it, and I am not sure how well I would have fared in this case. The honest depiction of the sanitary issues, the hunger, the despair, and the idea that nobody is a friend when it comes to "helping" others out are real questions we may all have to face at some time in our lives.

I think the book is a good choice for a younger reader, but it could be the basis for much heavier topics if read with a more mature group. I also liked the idea of pairing it up with a research piece on hurricanes, etc, but it could also lead to research in the fields of sociology and psychology.

Cherie said...

Being a lover of New Orleans (and in the city 3 months before the hurricane hit!) I was very excited to read this book. I had heard the stories of survival in the super dome, but the descriptions in the book really hit home. I think the way the author described in detail the lack of sanitation, the lack of food, and the innocent victims being preyed on by gangs, really hit home to me, and I would think would hit home with students who read the book. I too, would be interested in learning how the author received his facts.

In addition, I also feel that the relationship of Miles with his father was throw into the backgroung of the story and as the story went on, became a little sappy. Although extreme events do tend to push people closer together, I would think that Miles would harbor much more resentment against his father for his love of music and neglection of him as a son.

There was one part of the story I did not agree with. Miles talks about how Cyrus' granddaughters would be looking to blame someone for the death of their grandfather and Miles illudes to his anger at the government and God for not giving him the skin color that gets saved fast enough. Understanding that the 85% of the population in New Orleans is poor and working class, I still took offense to that statement. To my recollection, the citizens of New Orleans were WARNED to leave due to the impending hurricane risk. And they were also instructed to seek refuge in the superdome with food and water. I agree that the troops stationed in the dome needed to be more vigilant on patroling and protecting the civilians, but the average citizen still needs to take the INITIATIVE to protect themselves with what they have. People becoming too dependant on the government often feel like the government owes them!

Kim Seeley said...

Great pick Kathy!!! I really enjoyed reading this book. I am DEFINITELY thinking of using it in my Freshman 15:1 ELA class, it is definitely written at the level my students could be successful with. I thought the Prologue was great and really captured the readers attention. I was HORRIFIED with some of the things that went on in the Superdome. HOWEVER, I stopped and looked throughout the book to see if he referenced anyone through interviews, research, etc. So, while I am disturbed after reading it, I also am a little disappointed because I am left wondering what is fact and what is fiction. Also, I agree that it was WAY too easy for them to get past the guards. Overall, great pic for my special needs students!

Dawn said...

Cherie made a good point about how citizens were warned to leave. If I were in New Orleans at that time, I would most definitely get out! Good point.

Kathy J. said...

I agree with Cheri and Dawn...and I once asked why do you build below sea level in first place??? And the response was because they were poor and black that was the land that was allocated to them. And, I know the federal govt. took a lot of heat for the response to this catastrophe, but who should have ultimately been responsible for keeping the levees good working order to begin with? Isn't that a state responsibility? See, a research project would be great right about now!

cvanslyk said...

I loved this book and agree that it would be excellent to do with 15:1 ELA classes. Actually, I would like to fit this in to the senior English curriculum before the end of the year. It would also be an excellent research project that I think our students could really get involved in. Unfortunately, this was a story of man's inhumanity to man, as are so many others. More documentation might have been helpful. However, I unfortunately have to believe that many of the horrific events in the story were factual. We traveled to New Orleans shortly after Katrina and I was totally appalled by the conditions. Whole areas of shopping plazas had been totally wiped out. The motel we stayed in had a smell of mildew and it was obvious by the state of construction how high the water had risen and the attempts to patch things up in order to attract tourists again. There were acres and acres of FEMA trailers and tarps covering numerous houses. One of the worst things that we saw was the tent and tarp colonies under the bridges. There were families living in these with small children. They lived in conditions worse than some of the 3rd world countries. It is inexcusable that this is happening in our country. It was barely in the 50s when we were there. Those people must have been freezing. We are acquainted with a couple who were actually there right after Katrina happened and their accounts would also support the accuracy of events in this book. There were definitely political issues involved. I have to agree that this tragedy would have been handled differently if the population was more affluent. Many people had no way to get out of New Orleans even though they wanted to. They had no resources to help them. When everything you own is under water and you're on your roof so you don't drown yourself, you need someone to help you. The helpers were unexcusably slow in getting there. I'm sorry to go on and on about this. I just have so much compassion for the people of New Orleans and totally feel that they were neglected and mistreated by our government. This book would also be appropriate to use for debate and class discussion. It could also relate to government in a discussion or project dealing with the purposes and responsibilities of state, local and federal government. I liked the ending where Miles and his Pop had established a positive relationship. The main characters were likeable and realistic, not perfect but well meaning. It seemed liked Pop had always loved Miles but was too immature to show it until later in his life. This is another issue that many of our students could relate to. This was a wonderful book with great potential for use in the classroom.

Maria said...

I also was taken back a bit that it was turned into a racial issue. However, the controversy involved does reflect feelings of some of the population. The controversy of the warnings, responsibilities, help after the tragedy, the continuing conditions, conditions in the Super Dome, etc., all raise topics for great discussion, journal writing, research, and/or debate.

Erika said...

It is hard not to question or judge why people didn’t leave New Orleans when they were instructed to evacuate or why people didn’t bring enough food and water to the super dome.

There were many quotes that struck home for me. ..
“Parts of the city are gone, blown to hell”
“Felt like I had been stabbed in the heart”
“Felt like something got robbed deep inside me. Only it wasn’t something you could replace so easy, like a stolen football.”
“God’s kicking us out of our paradise.”
“That maybe they’d have a beef directly with God for sending the storm and making their skin the color that didn’t get saved fast enough.”

I try to put myself in other people's shoes, but in this situation I just can't. Whether it was a fire, or a hurricane or another natural disaster, I just can't imagine having to leave my belongings, my house, my memories and not know if I would ever see them again.

I agree with all of you and hope teachers who are able to utlize this book into their ELA class or a research project or in a gov't class keep our reading group posted on how it goes. I think all students, especially our low level reluctant readers, will be captivated and motivated to read more, research and investigate more with the topic of Katrina or other hurricane's. I am definetely intrigued and want to learn more.

I enjoyed the relationship and how it evolved with Miles and his Pop. Of course, I would have preferred more development, but it was a start at least. He was finally able to be hugged by his father, stuck up for during the fight, and they were able to finally relate to each other when Miles was interested in drumming. However, the quote, "“I’ve always had my own way, Miles.” I’m not used to worryin’ over someone else” was really sad to still hear. Just as sad, as when they talked about there never being enough gold paint to over up what they all went through in those seats of the superdome.

This book is going to be great in the classroom, keep me posted!

Wendy said...

I agree with everyone in evaluating the book's description horrific conditions and the lack of authenticity without references. I felt an undercurrent of racism in the way the author described different people and their actions. (The two armed black men on the roof of the pharmacy were protecting their business with a sign that stated they would shoot to kill but the white man yelling and banging on the fence with a barking dog was crazy. I wish Mile's relationship with parents was further developed. His mother moving him out when she married a man with children because she couldn't take care of all of them seemed cruel. His evolving relationship with his father was interesting to follow. We have heard so much about the results of Katrina on residents of New Orleans, it would be great to get some factual information. I agree that this book would be the basis of an excellent research project.

Kathy J. said...

Cincy Marchetti's freshmen were in the library on Friday, to start a research project. They are going to read a fiction book, and then investigate/research an issue in the book to determin the author's authenticity (or not) in dealing with the issue. I took the time to book talk a few titles- beginning with Hurricane Song! I told the students about our blog, and how we all thought this book would be a great venue for a research paper! Timing is everything. One of the boys scooped it right up. Can't wait to see his paper.


Dawn said...

I would be interested in hearing what the boy finds out. Keep us posted.

rebeccakryger said...

While I probably wouldn’t have picked this book up and chosen it myself, I liked the message behind it. Miles seems like a pretty typical teenager; his character is believable. The scene where the older football teammates encourage him to cut in line is a great example of peer pressure that most teens can relate to. The author shows Miles’ guilt after the incident, which I think is an important message. I was surprised with how much this book brought the events of Katrina into perspective for me, and it would do the same for kids here that can’t comprehend how difficult the situation was for people. Sometimes it is difficult to understand the impact of a catastrophic event when we’re so removed from it; in that respect, the author gives us some understanding.

The conflict between surviving as an individual versus helping one another was interesting. For example, when Miles’ father recognizes the “crazy” dishwasher from the club, he tries not to be noticed, yet eventually he softens as he sees how the rest of the family is struggling.

Overall, the realistic setting, believable characters, and contemporary nature of the event may get students interested in this novel. Readability, as well, makes this novel accessible to our struggling readers.

Lisa said...

I was not sure if I was going to like this book in the beginning, but it turned out that I really enjoyed it!! I heard rumors/stories about some things like this really occurring. It is difficult to imagine being in such a position, but I'm sure such incidents did actually happen. It was shocking and sad at the same time to read of what people would do in order to survive.

I think this would be a great novel to use with 15:1 students. I also liked Dawn's suggestion about pairing it with a research project. There are so many possibilities!! Students could relate to the passion the father has for jazz, if they too are passionate about something. Many stuedents could probably relate to the divorce, resentment, and relationship issues involved.

I really disliked the mother in the book. I struggled with the fact that she was sending him off to live with Dad because she was remarried. How could a mother do that???

I did enjoy the part when they were in the Superdome and Miles played with his father and uncle after the deaths. I thought this would be the beginning of their bonding. I actually had tears in my eyes when Cyrus jumped. It was so sad that his daughter and granddaughters were there and had to witness such a tragedy. The ending was just OK. I think this would be a great read for many of our reluctant readers.