Through the Looking Glass Children's Book Reviews

Drowned City: Hurricane Katrina and New Orleans

Drowned City: Hurricane Katrina and New Orleans

Don Brown
Nonfiction Graphic Novel
For ages 12 and up
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2015   ISBN: 978-0544157774

Many people all over the world have heard about Hurricane Katrina because of what it did to the city of New Orleans. For weeks images of the devastation filled T.V screens and newspaper pages. We heard the stories of loss and suffering, but most of us still do not have a clear picture of what really happened because we heard so many contradictory narratives.

In this extraordinary, often very painful account, Don Brown tells us what really happened; the good, the bad, and the really bad. He does not gloss over the very dark aspects of the disaster, and he does not hold back when it comes to letting us know how the people of New Orleans suffered due to the failings of others, the failings of people whose job it was to take care of them.

The story begins where it should begin, in Africa, where winds from the continent blew over the warm waters of the Atlantic to give birth to a tropical storm that then turned into “a vicious hurricane with howling winds.”  By August 26, 2005 the storm was a category 5 hurricane and it was heading for New Orleans. For people who knew how vulnerable the low-lying city was, the coming danger filled them with dread.

They were right to be worried. Though many people did leave the area before the hurricane hit, there were still about 200,000 city residents who did not. By the time a mandatory evacuation order was given on Sunday the 28th, it was too late. Some people chose to stay because they were afraid to leave their homes. Others were stubborn and sure that they would be able to cope with whatever the storm threw at them. Then there were the people who do not have the means to leave the city. Though there were buses and trains available, no one took on the job of making use of them to get people to safety.

The storm itself was horrific, but the aftermath was worse. The federal government did not send help immediately. The local government did not accept that a disaster of epic proportions had hit the city, and that tens of thousands of people needed help and support. People at all levels denied that there was a problem, and the people of the city suffered as a result. Everywhere there were people who were lost and in need in the city, eighty percent of which was underwater. The people waited for help where they could, and often help did not come.

Pairing his wonderful illustrations with information gathered from a variety of sources - including direct quotes from people who experienced the hurricane - Don Brown tells us the story of one of America’s most horrific natural disasters. Readers are left with a feeling of loss, and we can only hope that what happened in New Orleans never happens again. Next time, if there is a next time, the story has to be different.