Another Kind of Hurricane
“Sometimes the world tells you to do something new.”
Another Kind of Hurricane tells the stories of two boys, each having suffered a deep tragedy, each facing a difficult road to recovery. One potential pitfall with books that offer stories from multiple points of view is that readers often find one story more engaging than the other.
Zavion and his single father barely escape from their hurricane-ravaged house as Katrina descends on New Orleans. They jump from an upper story window onto a door that pitches wildly in the raging waters of a river that was once their street. They then paddle through oil-soaked, snake-infested water, past neighbors crouching on rooftops as their houses disintegrate beneath them.
Father and son steal food (candy bars are all they can find) and make their way to a friend’s house on higher land. Smith writes with clarity, grace, and just enough drama to make Zavion’s plight gripping, emotionally charged, and a real page-turner. Smith puts the reader there.
Henry, who lives in the shadow of Mt. Mansfield in Vermont, has just lost his best friend in a hiking accident. Losing a friend at any age, especially when young, is certainly traumatic. But his story pales in comparison to what is transpiring down south.
In addition, we learn Henry’s story through flashbacks. Henry’s friend, Wayne, dies in the opening scene, and we understand that Henry harbors some secret knowledge about his friend’s death. But we don’t know, through much of the book, what that secret is, only that it makes him sullen, rude to his mother, and a generally tough kid to like.
Meanwhile, polite and accessible Zavion, whose well-calibrated moral compass remains unaffected by the hurricane, is struggling to move forward and make the best of his new life. (He bakes bread.) But he remains plagued by guilt at the memory of those stolen candy bars.
He’s haunted by other excruciating memories as well that invite us to experience just how awful life was for some residents of New Orleans during and after the hurricane. It’s hard not to hurry through Henry’s entries, filled with his inscrutable teen angst, to see how Zavion will satisfy his need to repay the debt. We have no doubt that he will. That said, although Henry’s story might be less compelling to many readers, many will identify with his journey and ultimate transformation.
Smith is at her best when Zavion’s and Henry’s stories converge. The two boys are on very different missions, (Henry’s is less altruistic than Zavion’s) unaware that the other boy is just around the next corner. But the reader is aware, and watching Smith move her characters ever closer to one another is a marvel.
At the center of the boys’ connection is a marble, and Smith offers this arresting revelation from Zavion in his confusing, upended new life. “The marble had no upside or downside. It was facing the right direction no matter which way it landed.”
Short entries generally keep the book moving at a good clip. Midway through, Smith introduces several new characters without offering the reader background or context. These newcomers jolt us out of the narrative, appearing, as they do, like actors who’ve wandered on stage in the wrong play. Readers might find themselves flipping back to see if they’ve missed something. Ultimately these important secondary characters find their rightful place in the unfolding drama.
Writing a novel can be a bit like undertaking a long drive. There are always many possible routes and tempting side roads. Novelists also consider side trips and scenic overlooks in their narrative journeys and must decide which to pass by and which to include. Smith made a series of excellent choices in writing Another Kind of Hurricane, an emotional tribute to the victims of New Orleans on this tenth anniversary of Katrina.