A pet turkey becomes a lifeline for a girl who loses her father and home during Hurricane Katrina in this middle-grade novel.
In August 2005, Chelsea Malibu, 12, lives with her family in New Orleans’ 9th Ward. (The family’s unusual surname is Igbo Nigerian in origin.) Chelsea’s father, Max, has just successfully interviewed for his dream job as a professional magician, a big step up from working the night shift in a hospital laundry room. The family celebrates by going to a rodeo and turkey scramble, where Max captures a young tom turkey for Thanksgiving. Despite being warned not to get too attached, Max soon dubs the bird Tommy. When the nearby levee breaks during Hurricane Katrina, Chelsea makes it to the balcony with Tommy in a backpack but gets swept away by swirling floodwaters—and her father does, too. Chelsea undergoes several frightening experiences before reuniting with her mother and brother, Chip, in the Superdome, but her father remains missing. The family relocates to Houston, but it’s not an easy transition for anyone. When Chelsea tries to run away with Tommy to keep him from becoming Thanksgiving dinner, her story hits the media, leading to happy news. Six years later, now in her first year of college, Chelsea is still bedeviled by bad memories and refuses to set foot in New Orleans. Only Tommy, now dying, could make her return. In her debut novel, Enyi tells a thoughtful story about what happens to people after they survive a disaster: specifically, she shows the ways that they can be selfish and cruel, or self-denying and brave, and how difficult it can be for them to start over in a new place. The book doesn’t, however, consider some deeper issues related to the plot, such as climate change, and the parts that deal with Max’s disappearance are a bit soap-operatic in tone. As Houston still bears the brunt of Hurricane Harvey in real life, it adds a layer of poignancy to this fictional story; one wonders how Chelsea would have handled seeing her adopted city face the same kind of destruction.
An all-too-timely message of hope.