Sometimes I am an idiot and read mediocre books with fast approaching release dates while letting the good ones languish in a pile. YOU GUYS, I let Orleans by Sherri L. Smith languish, like a total idiot, and let me tell you I have all of the regrets, because this book was AMAZING. Yes, all caps AMAZING. I find myself quite mesmerized by the cover as well, from the plants and the birds to the dilapidated buildings and the camera tilt, to the strong and capable looking Black girl who surveys the scene. Let me tell you right now, the cover totally nails the feel of the book and I love it so much, almost as much as I loved the book. This review is going to have ALL OF THE GUSHING AND ALL OF THE LOVE.
With the succession of several hurricanes, each bigger than the last, New Orleans has been devastated. The United States erects a wall surrounding several states that renounce their statehood, leaving the region to fend for itself. This region is called the Delta. Now, not only were the hurricanes awful, but a disease came out of the region called Delta fever. Unfortunately, not everyone was able to be evacuated from the Delta, and so the population left there has devolved into chaos and different tribes based on blood type. Fen is in one of the O-Tribes and her leader Lydia is all about bring peace and the tribes together. Lydia is also very pregnant. Unfortunately, when the two O-Tribes, O Positive and O Negative meet, there is an ambush. Lydia dies in childbirth and Fen is left on her own to care for the baby.Meanwhile, Daniel is someone who lives in the outer states. He’s in his early twenties and he’s a brilliant virologist. He gets the idea into his head that he needs to venture into Orleans to get live culture samples of Delta Fever in order to develop a cure for it. Unfortunately, the border is closed, so Daniel must sneak in. He finds Orleans to be an incredibly dangerous place that has descended into chaos. As you can tell, his story intertwines with Fen’s.
Friends, the main character of Sherri L. Smith’s Orleans, Fen, is a total badass. I mean, this girl can survive and she’s been through some real things. As a reader, I loved seeing a female who was incredibly capable and resourceful. Also, YAY a Person of Color as main character in a dystopian book. LOVE IT. Also I am proud of myself for not coding Fen as a tan white person when her skin was described as brown. GUYS I HAVE MADE PROGRESS. YAY. I personally believe in celebrating little learning about and acknowledging my privilege milestones. Seriously. I do. Also. Daniel, he was great too, as a character, and quite earnest and I wanted him to be able to find a cure for Delta fever. I love that both main characters were ones that I was totally cheering on and rooting for and deeply caring about.
Y’all, I feel so thoughtful while pondering Orleans. Mainly because there were themes and omg do I love a good theme. So, one of the things Orleans made me think about was the government’s response to a crisis relative to poverty level. I got to thinking about Hurricane Katrina. I was in college when Hurricane Katrina struck and I just remember not knowing a thing about it, because it happened during my first week ever and you know how it is — making friends, Rush Week, new classes, finding the correct building, etc. SO. Anyways, the first I had heard of it was when someone was discussing Kanye West’s statement about how George Bush doesn’t care about Black people. Anyways, that stuck with me and years later, I find myself thinking about privilege and how I kind of think that the government at the time mishandled Katrina. Then I think about how the rich people were able to get out, but poorer people had a harder time. And it’s like this book — basically the rich people got out of the Delta, whereas, the poor are left without resources. Sure supplies get dropped in, but eventually that stops. I guess where I am going with this is that I felt like Orleans reflected the absolute worse possible government response to a natural disaster. And it’s one of those dystopians that gave me chills because it could happen, ya know?
I am glad I have Flygirl on hand, as after reading Orleans I have become a fan of Smith’s excellent plotting and on-point pacing. Seriously, Fen’s struggle against the odd’s to save Lydia’s baby and Daniel’s dedication to finding a cure had me captivated. It’s cliche, but I honestly could not wait to see what would happen next. There is adventure and an incredibly interesting world — and also for those who love learning and history, a reference to the Tuskegee study which was this totally messed up medical experimentation on people of color – it brought up all kinds of medical ethics and questions. Anyways, I just loved that Sherri L. Smith’s book made me truly think deeply and consider society and poverty, among other things. Aside from being a fun read, I also think that Orleans would be a great addition to a classroom read as there is SO MUCH one can discuss and debate and talk about, and for real if a book makes you want to talk and discuss, it is absolutely worth a read.
Disclosure: Received for review
Other reviews of Orleans by Sherri L. Smith:
The Book Smugglers – “I loved it deeply, painfully, and wholeheartedly.”
Respiring Thoughts – “Mostly, I was totally impressed by this book”
A Reader Of Fictions – “earns so much respect from me for being diverse”