Finding Someplace by Denise Lewis Patrick is more than just an adventure story about Reesie, who finds herself stranded at home during Hurricane Katerina. It’s also about the friction that boils over between her parents, the kiss that Orlando gave her on a rooftop, and the aftermath of being a survivor. All these events culminate in a thoughtful coming-of-age story, which for all of its positive elements at times feels overly rushed.
A lot happens in Finding Someplace. For starters, Reesie is about to celebrate her thirteenth birthday when Hurricane Katerina hits the city. No one in her family is prepared, which is why Reesie is left to rescue the family’s important papers and to take refuge with a neighbor. While the two wait out the storm, Reesie develops a friendship and learns about her African-American heritage. But Hurricane Katerina isn’t the sole focus of Finding Someplace. In fact, about half the book takes place after Reesie has been rescued. Reesie is upset not just because the storm drove the family away from their home, but because her parents aren’t together, and this leads to trouble at her new school. All these conflicts make for many riveting moments.
And yet, I sometimes found myself wishing Patrick had more deeply explored these scenarios. Take for example the arrival of Hurricane Katrina. In certain ways, Patrick’s description perfectly matches what I’ve heard about hurricanes. The storm starts out with clouds and rain. Then the lights started to flicker and the power goes off. Next, there’s a wind, which shakes the brick foundation of her neighbor’s house. So far so good. Unfortunately, the emotional reactions of the characters feel slightly off to me. Yes, Reesie does shout and tremble, but she also eats and asks questions and shares memories. And when her friends turn up, although they’re soaked, they seem to act pretty casual too. Reesie gets a call from her mom, her friends announce a surprise marriage, and no one wants to go up into the attic with spiders and stuff. I know there can be lulls, and maybe even moments of sun, wherein one might start to feel complacent or even be tricked into relief. Even so, I expected a little more terror and confusion.
An aspect of Patrick’s novel that makes it stand out from other stories about storms is that Patrick spends about half the novel on how the Reesie’s family struggles to pull themselves back together after Hurricane Katrina. Here, reviewers have complimented her in how she captured raw feelings, and I’d mostly agree with them. Reesie finds settling into a new home difficult. She can’t make friends, because none of them has ever faced a storm or mugging or a split of a family. She doesn’t care about grades, because she no longer has a home and her parents don’t seem to be handling life too well either. My only complaint is that some scenarios felt too quickly resolved.
However, I realize that this often the nature of middle-grade novels, and so I can’t fault Patrick too much for the fact that I wanted more complexity and layers. That is perhaps the adult side in me showing through. Combined with fiction for other age groups about hurricanes, Finding Someplace should spark much conversation in classrooms about how life-changing a storm can be to those who have faced one.