Saint Louis Armstrong Beach

Saint Louis Armstrong Beach by Brenda Woods

The gripping story of a boy, a dog and a hurricane. Saint is a boy with confidence as big as his name is long. A budding musician, he earns money playing clarinet for the New Orleans tourists. His best friend is a stray dog named Shadow, and it’s because of Shadow that Saint’s still in town when Hurricane Katrina hits. Saint’s not worried about the hurricane at first–he plans to live to be a hundred just to defy his palm-reader friend Jupi, who told him he had a short life line. But now the city has been ordered to evacuate and Saint won’t leave without Shadow. His search brings him to his elderly neighbor’s home and the three of them flee to her attic when the waters rise. But when Miz Moran’s medication runs out, it’s up to Saint to save her life–and his beloved Shadow’s.

“Saint Louis Armstrong Beach is me,” says the narrator, an almost-twelve-year-old African American boy living in New Orleans in 2005. This spare, moving novel covers five days before, during, and after Hurricane Katrina. In a carefully crafted backstory, Woods deftly shows (never tells) readers about Saint’s “before”: his life in the tight-knit, historic community of Tremé; infatuation with a thirteen-year-old neighbor; success as a street musician; desire for an L1020 Step-Up Pro clarinet; and unfailing love for Shadow, a stray dog. As Katrina approaches, the Beach family makes contingency plans for evacuation. The packing, boarding up windows, checking on neighbors, and making and unmaking of plans as the situation changes (all done in heat that makes one feel like “being cooked inside an oven”) capture perfectly the hurry-up-and-wait twin aggravations of disaster preparedness. Most poignant are Saint’s mother’s community responsibilities (through her hospital job) that conflict with her desire to stay with her family. In a believable moment of preteen impulse, Saint decides to ride out the hurricane with his elderly neighbor, Miz Moran, and Shadow. This tense “during” vividly portrays the force of the storm, and the authentic New Orleans setting works as a powerful character, adding an extra dimension to this compelling Katrina story. betty carter Copyright 2011 Horn Book Magazine Reviews.