Today, I'm reviewing the beautiful, magical Another Kind of Hurricane by Tamara Ellis Smith. It's a lyrical, heartbreaking book about two young lives that become wondrously entwined, as a result of Hurricane Katrina.
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Hardcover, 336 pages
Published July 14th 2015 by Schwartz & Wade
Format read: Finished copy via publisher
A hurricane, a tragic death, two boys, one marble. How they intertwine is at the heart of this beautiful, poignant book. When ten-year-old Zavion loses his home in Hurricane Katrina, he and his father are forced to flee to Baton Rouge. And when Henry, a ten-year-old boy in northern Vermont, tragically loses his best friend, Wayne, he flees to ravaged New Orleans to help with hurricane relief efforts—and to search for a marble that was in the pocket of a pair of jeans donated to the Red Cross.
Rich with imagery and crackling with hope, this is the unforgettable story of how lives connect in unexpected, even magical, ways.
Which is why I was so appreciative, when I got the chance to read Another Kind of Hurricane. Tamara Ellis Smith tells the story of ten-year-old Zavion, who is forced to flee Baton Rouge with his father, and Henry, a ten-year-old boy from Northern Vermont, who is recovering from the death of a friend. A twist of fate brings the two boys together, and both Zavion and Henry quickly learn how lives can be interconnected in magical ways, and how it’s kindness, generosity and friendship which can help people to continue living with their new normal.
There are many qualities to appreciate about Another Kind of Hurricane, but it’s Smith’s approach to Zavion and Henry’s individual journeys that should rank first and foremost. As the story unfolds, we see how Zavion is grappling with the immediate challenges of living in a post-Katrina world, while Henry is still trying to recover from the guilt of his friend’s death.
Smith is gentle as she explores Zavion and Henry’s new norm, including her tacit acknowledgement that a situation like Katrina can test the boundaries of human compassion, while also challenging many of the societal contracts that we teach young people - e.g. Zavion’s struggle with the idea that he and his father have to steal candy bars to survive.
Though never explicitly stated, Smith’s lesson is actually a great reminder to not judge people for things that can’t possibly be understood, which translates also into a nice reminder for Henry’s backstory as well. We see the trauma that he’s experienced since his friend’s death, which makes his determination to hold onto a once-shared marble not only understandable, but poignant.
And once Henry and Zavion meet, Smith does a thoughtful job of showing how the events of the Hurricane have helped change their understanding of both themselves, and the world around them, but also really reinforces some fundamental beliefs in their minds - e.g. having compassion for others; and learning how to move on.
Ultimately, while Another Kind of Hurricane is longer than most MG books at 336 pages, it’s a worthwhile read, about friendship, compassion and growth in challenging times.
Of special note for parents and educators: There are several scenes when Ellis highlights the devastation experienced by those living in New Orleans, including remnants of lives that were left behind.
It’s sombering feeling when readers are faced with the knowledge of families, pets and life paths that have been changed so irrevocably, and knowledge of this may be challenging to comprehend for younger readers. This might be an opportune time to discuss how real-life examples of similar situations were happened after the storm.
Tamara Ellis Smith has written a compelling, ethereal book on how the most challenging of times can bring people together, allowing them to showcase the best and most generous parts of humanity. Both individually and in their combined storylines, Zavion and Henry show a kinship of understanding in their joint grief, while also gently highlighting the idea that recovery is a shared process, when you have a true friend by your side.
I highly recommend this book for all younger readers of contemporary fiction. I also think that Another Kind of Hurricane will appeal to older readers who appreciate lyrical books, like The God of Small Things. Ellis has a distinctive voice similar to Arundhati Roy's, and I absolutely believe that Another Kind of Hurricane will also gain the same
About the author:
Tamara Ellis Smith earned her MFA in Writing for Children and Young Adults from the Vermont College of Fine Arts. She lives in Richmond, Vermont, with her family. This is her first novel. Visit her on the Web at tamaraellissmith.com.