An unprecedented series of hurricanes has swollen the Mississippi River to unheard-of levels and is threatening to put New Orleans and most of the low-lying areas of the South under water. Fifteen-year-old Stephen is spending the summer with his father near a small town north of Lake Pontchartrain when another powerful hurricane arrives and the levees on the Mississippi River completely fail. In the anarchy and chaos that results, Stephen's father is killed, and the boy is left to fend for himself. Stephen soon encounters Angela, a college student whose parents have also been killed. Navigating the labyrinth of flooded fields and towns in an airboat, the two set out in search of Stephen's mother and higher ground.
Adult author Ely (Dream Fishing) makes a mostly successful YA debut with this survival tale. In a dystopian near-future in which global warming and superhurricanes have sunk a good part of the southeastern U.S., 15-year-old Stephen is stranded in rural Louisiana. When raiders kill his survivalist father, Stephen heads for New Orleans, where his mother is living. En route, he encounters Angela, a recently orphaned college student, and the two of them meet a variety of fellow survivors on their travels, from an amoral bartender to a pair of repentant prisoners. Ely nicely conveys the mingled hope and despair that pervade the atmosphere, but Stephen comes across as disaffected, like a Faulknerian character out of place in too simple a narrative. Stephen s lack of emotion from the outset masks any sense of growing unease at his increased exposure to violence and cynicism (and makes his emotional connections oddly unsatisfying). A general reliance on coincidence to move the plot along doesn t help, but the large cast, well-crafted action, and strong sense of place carry the book far. Ages 12 up.