Upside Down in the Middle of Nowhere by Julie T. Lamana

upside-down-in-the-middle-of-nowhereBibliographic Information:

  • Publisher, Date: Chronicle Books, 2014
  • Edition: First
  • Description: 313 pages ; 22 cm
  • Interest Level: 7 to YA
  • Summary: “Armani Curtis can think about only one thing: her tenth birthday. All her friends are coming to her party, her mama is making a big cake, and she has a good feeling about a certain wrapped box. Turning ten is a big deal to Armani. It means she’s older, wiser, more responsible. But when Hurricane Katrina hits the Lower Nines of New Orleans, Armani realizes that being ten means being brave, watching loved ones die, and mustering all her strength to help her family weather the storm. A powerful story of courage and survival, Upside Down in the Middle of Nowhere celebrates the miraculous power of hope and love in the face of the unthinkable.” Retrieved from
  • ISBN: 978-1-45212-456-8
  • Subjects:
    • Modern Events – Fiction
    • Hurricanes – Fiction
    • Family Issues – Fiction

Reader’s Annotation: A birthday with no friends?!  That stupid storm is ruining my special day!

Plot Summary: Armani lives in the Lower Nines, a bowl-shaped section New Orleans that lies below sea level in some areas but is protected by levees.  On her birthday Hurricane Katrina hits and while she and her family manage to survive that, the breeching of the levees were a different matter.  When the dark, dirty waters roll over the Nines, Armani and her family retreat to the attic barely getting inside before the water fills the house below them and traps them in the hot, cramped space.  In the first night she loses her beloved Grandmother whose health can’t take the stress caused by the catastrophe.  The next day they are forced onto the roof, where the puppy she’d gotten for her birthday, falls into the swirling water, followed by her older brother who was trying to save her.  Her father then goes in to try and save the boy, and all three disappear.  While they are saved by a passing man with a boat her life doesn’t get much easier as she becomes separated from her mother and one sibling, leaving her responsible for two little sisters in a chaotic world.  As she navigates the world of refugees, Armani finds that there are many unpleasant people but that there are also people who step up and work to fill the voids in her life.

Critical Evaluation: One of the most difficult things to do is write effectively about people who come from a different culture than you do.  Some writers have an innate empathy which allows them to understand how other cultures work for its members but most don’t.  Julie Lamana seems to be able to reach into the lives of her subjects and recreate them in a believable and deeply personal way.  Armani and her family are African Americans living in an insular and culture specific area of the United States but they are brought to life in a way that could put them next door to anyone anywhere without disrespecting the various aspects of their culture.  You know these people; they are your family and friends; they are all of us.  The book is both terrible and wonderful in its depiction of a family enduring terror and loss that shakes them to their core but doesn’t beat them.  This is a deeply moving account of an American tragedy told from the point of view of a child who was no longer one in the wake of the storm.  The only real complaint I have was the number of times I had to stop and wait for the tears to clear up so I could keep reading.

Author’s Brief Bio: “Julie T. Lamana grew up in a military family, moving frequently throughout the U.S. and abroad. She went to kindergarten in Japan, where she discovered her love for storytelling while watching Japanese television and making up stories to go along with the images on the screen!

Fortunately, or unfortunately, Julie attended seven different schools in second grade alone and many others over the years, before her family finally settled in Colorado when Julie was in the eighth grade. Moving so often made it difficult to maintain meaningful relationships, which led her at a very young age to the magic found within the pages of books…lots of books.

In 1995, Julie and her husband packed up their six children, two dogs and neurotic cat, and left their cabin tucked away in the Rocky Mountains and relocated to Louisiana. After taking some time to adjust to living at sea-level, Julie continued her career in education and her passion for literacy.

Julie is now retired and spends most of her time at her writing desk. She often gazes out the window where she’s surrounded by ancient oaks and pecan trees, overlooking a pond that may or may not be home to various snakes and alligators.

Julie has been a member of the SCBWI since 2007. She is currently hard at work on her next middle grade project.”  Retrieved from

Genre Designation: Realistic fiction

Possible Curriculum Links:

  • Science / Weather related
  • Political Science / Government effectiveness

Book Talk Ideas

  • Are you prepared for a natural disaster?
  • Where would you go and what would you take with you?
  • What would you do if you had a medical emergency during a flood, earthquake or other natural disaster?

Materials Relating to Potential Challenges:


Why this book was selected.  I remember watching the new during Hurricane Katrina and being stunned by what I saw.  This book does an excellent job of looking beyond the news to the people who lived the event.



Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s