Upside Down in the Middle of Nowhere by Julie T. Lamana is a moving and memorable middle grade novel that centres on one young girl's survival through one of the world's worst natural disasters. I loved everything about this book, from its realistic main character, to the moments that broke my heart, to the exploration of the bonds of family and community in times of emergency.
Summary: Armani Curtis can think about only one thing: her tenth birthday. All her friends are coming to her party, her mama is making a big cake, and she has a good feeling about a certain wrapped box. Turning ten is a big deal to Armani. It means she’s older, wiser, more responsible. But when Hurricane Katrina hits the Lower Nines of New Orleans, Armani realizes that being ten means being brave, watching loved ones die, and mustering all her strength to help her family weather the storm. A powerful story of courage and survival, Upside Down in the Middle of Nowhere celebrates the miraculous power of hope and love in the face of the unthinkable.
Armani wants nothing more to grow up, but growing up means having to deal with grown-up things that no person adult (or child) should ever have to face. Her house floods, she loses several members of her family, she is partly at fault for her family failing to evacuate, and she watches everything--her home, her town, her community--destroyed. From the sights, smells, and sounds of suffering and destruction, to the happy ending that leaves you with hope, this is a powerful story about one little girl's bravery, strength, and heroic perseverance through unimaginable tragedy.
There is some mature content for teachers and educators to consider from language to mature themes of death and loss. Armani loses many people she loves, including half her family, and these deaths may be upsetting to younger readers. However, Lamana's writing is eloquent, purposeful, and ringed with fact and honesty. Any content that might be objectionable to sensitive younger readers is not present for shock value, but it is a sincere effort to help the reader understand what people actually lived through.
Upside Down in the Middle of Nowhere is a beautiful and unforgettable novel, and it has definitely earned its place on my favourites shelf! I truly believe that this is one of the best pieces of fiction for young readers on the Hurricane Katrina tragedy. I recommend it to anyone who enjoys inspiring stories or survival tales.