I’m not sure what attracted me to Zane and the Hurricane, but something did–I grabbed it off the library shelf on a whim. (I did enjoy Rodman Philbrick’s Newbery Honor book a few years ago–he wrote The Mostly True Adventures of Homer P. Figg–and I’ve lived through a couple of hurricanes, so it wasn’t necessarily a surprising whim, but still.) And I have to say, I’m impressed with his storytelling. Zane is likable and draws you instantly into the story; he also feels more real, and more individual, than any of the characters in Escape from Mr. Lemoncello’s Library did. (I’m not belittling the one; I’m just saying that Philbrick is impressive at doing approachable with depth.) If there is a weakness, for me it’s the coincidence of timing that turns the major characters’ luck towards the end; on the other hand, the bad they experience before that is real enough so that it avoids being too much. In brief, Zane is a New Hampshire boy visiting the great-grandmother he’s never met in New Orleans when Katrina strikes. He and Grammy are separated, and Zane’s path through the hurricane is a varied one. I learned more about Katrina in general while being riveted by Zane’s story in particular. This one kept me going right up to the end, which is pretty good for a book about a modern event with a male protagonist. (It’s not that I dislike books that fall into that category, mind you, but it’s rare that I really can’t put them down.)
At any rate, I shan’t spoil the story for you with any more details. What this book got me thinking about, however, were my memories of Katrina. I was living in Utah and working two jobs at the time, so my memories aren’t incredibly detailed; I do remember, however, that there was a lot of criticism about the federal response to the disaster. I don’t remember hearing as much criticism of the local government, but then, I wasn’t paying enough attention to guarantee that there wasn’t (not to mention the fact that hurricane news is not as prominently reported in Utah as it was in RI). I was thinking about this as I was reading this book. At first I was considering it a sad commentary on our society that we’re so concerned about who’s to blame…after all, a hurricane is a natural disaster. They happen when they happen. Then I started to think about how complicated the blame issue really is; those in authority had been warned that the levees might not hold, and those living on the coast had to be aware that hurricanes happen and their location carried some inherent risks, but that doesn’t mean that assigning blame is easy. I imagine some of those in power put off strengthening the levees, but I also imagine that the people living in those areas wouldn’t have been terribly excited about bearing the financial burden involved. (Who loves to pay more taxes?) Yes, people living on the coast were betting against a disaster like Katrina, but then again, if that’s where you’re from and what you know and what you can afford, it’s not exactly easy to pick up and move. I could sit back and say that those who chose to ride it out and died in the floods brought about their own fate, but where do you evacuate to if you haven’t the money for a hotel and don’t have somewhere else to go? Ultimately, isn’t it human nature to put off preventative projects that take a great deal of effort and money? Don’t we all take risks, sometimes extremely foolishly, because we’d rather take our chances than face the alternatives? And don’t we all, eventually, see our luck run out or our risks fail to carry us through–and want to blame the likeliest culprit?
My junior high band director asked me once, when I was explaining away the blanks on my practice record: “Is there a reason for it?” I said yes, because there legitimately was–I was that kind of kid. His follow-up question gave me pause. “Is there an excuse for it?” I was smart enough to understand where he was going; I’m pretty sure I told him no. I haven’t seen Kevin Kane for well over a decade now, but that’s a lesson I’ve never forgotten. We all have our reasons, and sometimes they are excellent; often, however, we still know better. Being human is a complicated thing.
I suppose my point, assuming that I have one in the midst of all of this philosophical rambling, is that rather than pointing fingers–either personally or as a society–isn’t it better to acknowledge the tragedy, admit that we made mistakes, and focus on what we can do to fix them? I’m certainly not claiming that none of that happened at all–like I said, I wasn’t aware enough at the time to know–but I think it’s pretty safe to assume that not enough of it happened. After all, after 3 kids and almost 8 years of parenting, I still find myself wanting to excuse being impatient or losing my temper by pointing out the behavior of the child (or children) in the situation in question. I still have to remind myself to stop and think —Earth to Self! You are the PARENT! It’s your job to stay patient and deal! They are CHILDREN!
Then again, as long as I’m trying my best to tell myself that, day after day, well–I’m trying my best. In doing that, one can only hope that one’s best will get better.