“The big bass drum led the parade, all in a Mardi Gras Day!”
IT IS ALMOST MARDI GRAS, which is quite famously celebrated in New Orleans. Though many cities and towns through the US have their own versions of the carnival season, the one in New Orleans is the largest and most decadent of them all. So what better place to visit on our literary road trip this weekend than NOLA?
New Orleans is one of my favorite cities. It is a city where brunch is practically a religion, coffee is strong with chicory, late nights are as commonplace as sleeping in, and nearly everyone who visits will go home with an interesting story. It is also a city that has at times a seedy history, but also one that is rich with music, food and culture. Influences in the city include the micro-cultures of the French, Spanish, German, Irish, First Nations and Caribbean islands (to name a few). The Cajuns and the Creoles born of this area have for many years defined what people think of when they hear about New Orleans.
Though tourists often visit for the spectacle, those who know and love New Orleans understand that the true beauty of the Crescent City is in the people, their love of music and family, and the land which graces the curves of the Mississippi and Lake Pontchartrain.
So let’s get down to the YA books that have feature the Big Easy. And if you feel so inspired, maybe google some creole and cajun recipes (cajun redfish, dirty rice, jambalaya, shrimp po’ boys and muffalettas are a great place to start), throw on some jazz or zydeco, and have yourself a little festival in your living room! There is one book in this list that isn’t exactly YA, but it would feel wrong to not include Anne Rice, and I certainly read it while in junior high so I’m counting it. Anyway…
Off we go!
Out of the Easy by Ruta Sepetys
It’s 1950, and as the French Quarter of New Orleans simmers with secrets, seventeen-year-old Josie Moraine is silently stirring a pot of her own. Known among locals as the daughter of a brothel prostitute, Josie wants more out of life than the Big Easy has to offer.
She devises a plan to get out, but a mysterious death in the Quarter leaves Josie tangled in an investigation that will challenge her allegiance to her mother, her conscience, and Willie Woodley, the brusque madam on Conti Street. Josie is caught between the dream of an elite college and a clandestine underworld. New Orleans lures her in her quest for truth, dangling temptation at every turn, and escalating to the ultimate test.
With characters as captivating as those in her internationally bestselling novel Between Shades of Gray, Ruta Sepetys skillfully creates a rich story of secrets, lies, and the haunting reminder that decisions can shape our destiny.
The Iron King by Julie Kagawa
Something has always felt slightly off in Meghan’s life, ever since her father disappeared before her eyes when she was six. She has never quite fit in at school or at home.
When a dark stranger begins watching her from afar, and her prankster best friend becomes strangely protective of her, Meghan senses that everything she’s known is about to change.
But she could never have guessed the truth – that she is the daughter of a mythical faery king and is a pawn in a deadly war. Now Meghan will learn just how far she’ll go to save someone she cares about, to stop a mysterious evil, no faery creature dare face; and to find love with a young prince who might rather see her dead than let her touch his icy heart.
Interview with the Vampire by Anne Rice
The time is now.
We are in a small room with the vampire, face to face, as he speaks—as he pours out the hypnotic, shocking, moving, and erotically charged confessions of his first two hundred years as one of the living dead…
He speaks quietly, plainly, even gently…carrying us back to the night when he departed human existence as the heir—young, romantic, cultivated—to a great Louisiana plantation, and was inducted by the radiant and sinister Lestat into the other, the “endless” life…learning first to sustain himself on the blood of cocks and rats caught in the raffish streets of New Orleans, then on the blood of human beings…to the years when, moving away from his final human ties under the tutelage of the hated yet necessary Lestat, he gradually embraces the habits, hungers, feelings of vampirism: the detachment, the hardened will, the “superior” sensual pleasures.
Upside Down in the Middle of Nowhere by Julie Lamana
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.
And add to this list: pretty much everything else by Anne Rice and, of course, Tenneseee Williams. And many others.
Though I moved out of New Orleans a few years before Katrina, it remains a city that I care very much about, and one that I still follow with their news, sports, challenges and triumphs. I don’t know if New Orleans will ever be back to the way it was.
If you have never visited, I hope you will; it is a city well worth the time to explore and enjoy for more than just a few drinks on Bourbon Street. If you live there now, I hope you are well and enjoying each day of Carnival.
Laissez les bons temps rouler! Happy Mardi Gras!