Background: I met author Terry Trueman at a young adult author coffee klatch at ALA earlier this summer. He came and spoke at my table for five minutes, and he made a good impression. When I ran across him later signing copies of Hurricane in the exhibit hall, I was inspired to pick up a copy. This week, with Hurricane Ike bearing down on the Texas coast, seemed like the right time to read the book. For other links to hurricane-related reviews, see this post at Semicolon. Although I no longer live in Texas, I lived in Houston from 1998 to 2000, and I hate to even think of how stressful it must be living near the Texas coast right now.
Review: Hurricane is a very quick read, a slim novel covering a brief, intense period of time. Hurricane is a fictionalized account of a true event. Hurricane Mitch was a category 5 hurricane that caused devastation in the Honduras in 1998 (details here). In the novel Hurricane, Terry Trueman, who worked as a teacher in the Honduras in the early 1980s, tells the story of a family and a village pummeled by the storm.
José is one of six children of a family living in the village of La Rupa. He is the second-oldest son, and the student in his family. He attends the International School, where he's taught in Spanish and English. As the book begins, he's kind of a typical boy coming of age. He appreciates his family, but he's also not above leaving the hard work for his brother and running off to play soccer in the street. After the hurricane hits, however, with his father and older brother missing, José grows up quite quickly.
Trueman paints a detailed picture of La Rupa, both before and after the hurricane. The descriptions veer a tiny bit into "instructive" territory at times, but I'm willing to give that a pass in this case, because it's a setting that American readers will find unfamiliar. And being able to see La Rupa clearly beforehand lends emotional impact to the story. For example:
"Glancing at our neighbors who stand talking together, I realize that I know every home in La Rupa and the colors, shapes, and sizes of every room in every home. The houses here are just like most houses in Honduras--simple buildings, with one bathroom and two or three bedrooms. We don't have basements like I've seen in movies about the United States, or big two-car garages. But our houses are pained more colorfully, in bright pink or yellow or turquoise. I have been inside all these houses many times, eaten meals with the families, and watched TV with the kids. I know where the picture of Jesus, with his chest open and his heart showing, hands on the living room wall of the Hernandez house; I know that the Alvarezes always have pink toilet paper in their bathroom to match the pink tiles on their bathroom wall." (Page 9)
I especially like the detail of the pink toilet paper. It's personal, and makes it that much sadder when the Alvarez house doesn't survive the hurricane. Here's a brief snippet of Jose's reactions after the storm (without giving too much away):
"I keep waving my flashlight so that the people calling can see and yell over to me and I can find them, but this stupid light is weak! Where are all the houses? Where are ... And now it hits me. The Ramirez house, which used to stand right next door to ours, is mostly gone.
I force myself to look into the darkness, squinting as hard as I can trying to find the other houses, but can't see anything." (Page 41)
Some of the details that follow are pretty grim (including digging in the mud for bodies). But I don't think that they'll be too much for young readers to cope with, because everything is filtered through José's sometimes dazed perspective. And the ending is relatively (perhaps even unrealistically) hopeful for José's family.
The success of this book is that it truly makes the reader see the human side of the aftermath of a hurricane. José is a strong character, not perfect, but all the more real for his imperfection. Through José, Trueman shows us suffering, fear, and desolation, but also bravery, loyalty, and hope. This book made me want to be a better person, to appreciate the things that I have, and be a better neighbor and friend and family member. And it made me glad that I don't live in the hurricane belt.
Amazon says that this book is for middle grade readers (9-12), but I would classify it more as a quick read for middle schoolers, especially for reluctant readers looking for action. This year, high schoolers might appreciate it, too, in light of the many hurricanes sweeping towards the US. Recommended. This is a book that will stay with me.
© 2009 by Jennifer Robinson of Jen Robinson's Book Page. All rights reserved.