Armani can’t wait for her 10th birthday and it’s almost here! The day before her birthday their next door neighbors pack up their possessions and leave. The father instructs Armani and her brother Georgie to tell their father that they should evacuate as well. Armani begs her brother not to say anything until after her birthday party the following day.
The following day Hurricane Katrina hits with a vengeance. Armani and her family are trapped in their home, scrambling for the attic, then the roof as the wall of water rises inside, drowning their possessions and the lives they led up to this moment.
Before the actual water hits, Armani’s family hunkers down in their home against the winds slamming into the walls and uprooting trees. In the moments after the winds die down and just before the wall of water slams through the streets Armani goes outside with her father to survey the damage. Armani is chilled by what she sees:
For the first time in my whole life, I felt unsafe in a place where I’d always known, no matter what, I was gonna be safe.
Armani is forced to face the challenges of losing the people, places and things she loves most. She sees the grownups around her–who have always had the responsibility to protect her–struggle to navigate difficulties they never anticipated. It’s frightening to realize your parents are not all-powerful and can’t always “fix” everything. Armani encounters situations that are terrifying and people who share many kindnesses with her and her family.
Upside Down in the Middle of Nowhere is a special story that simultaneously allows a strong female character like Armani to grow as a person in knowledge, compassion and insight and allows the reader–especially those of us who live in other areas of the country in which hurricanes are not the most common weather threat–a close-up view of what it was like to survive Hurricane Katrina. A personal story like Armani’s brings a new perspective and understanding to the physical and emotional devastation Katrina left in its wake.
When she returns to the Lower Nine for the first time after fleeing Armani is in the back seat of a car, looking out the windows:
The slowness of time made me sick. We crawled along down streets I didn’t recognize in a city that sure didn’t feel like home.
We were lost. Lost in a place I’d been knowin’ my whole life.
Upside Down in the Middle of Nowhere is a poignant story that makes a nice read-aloud in an upper elementary classroom or as an independent reading choice.