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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

After a flood, teen looks to help her town in ‘Nowhere Better Than Here’

In “Nowhere Better Than Here,” a teen wants to assist people in a flooded town. The author aided people during floods in Louisiana.  (Macmillan)
By Mary Quattlebaum Special To The Washington Post

“Seeing all the flooding that had occurred with Hurricane Ian (last month in Florida) definitely made me think about the flood of 2016 in Louisiana,” author Sarah Guillory said. “Homes were submerged, cars swept away.”

The intense rainfall and flooding in her home state six years ago prompted Guillory to write her first middle-grade novel “Nowhere Better Than Here.”

You may have seen the photos and news footage of flooding caused by hurricanes and other natural disasters and wondered: How can a community recover from that? What might be the immediate impact? And what might cause long-term change?

In the book, 13-year-old Jillian wonders the same thing. All her life, she has lived in Boutin, Louisiana, a small, friendly town on the Gulf Coast. She loves fishing, shrimping and watching wildlife in the surrounding bayou (a flat, marshy area filled with slow-moving water). She shares a small home with her two favorite people: her kind, brave mother and storytelling grandmother. But a heavy rain that lasts for days changes everything. Though Jillian’s house, which is built on stilts, survives intact, many townspeople lose their homes and belongings. Stores are flooded, and the school is badly damaged. People leave town to stay with family elsewhere and decide not to return.

Jillian’s school is closed, and Boutin students are relocated to a much larger middle school 40 minutes away. Jillian also discovers that her beloved hometown is disappearing. Because of climate change, rainfall is increasing in this region and other parts of the country, and the ground can’t absorb it.

Oceans are also warming and rising, and the sea is spilling more frequently onto the nearby land. In time, Boutin may be completely underwater. As Guillory writes, over the “last hundred years or so, Louisiana has lost more than two thousand square miles of land. That’s about the size of states like Rhode Island or Delaware.”

“It’s hard for people to really understand the impact of coastal erosion,” Guillory told KidsPost by phone from her home outside Baton Rouge. In the book, “I wanted to show its effect on one family and one town.”

Like her main character, Guillory loves the outdoors. She has enjoyed hiking and fishing – mostly catch and release – since childhood. She’s an avid runner, putting in miles each morning before teaching English at the local high school. And her own dogs are the models for Lucy, the endearing golden retriever that enters Jillian’s life during the flood.

Just as Jillian did in the fictional Boutin, Guillory responded to the destruction wrought by floods in Louisiana (in 2016, and with Hurricanes Katrina and Gustave in 2005 and 2008) by joining others in her community to help those affected, both in her neighborhood and outside her city.

“It was scary how much damage was done. And you can feel so helpless,” she said, but like Jillian’s mother, Guillory believes that “we can all do something” and even “small acts can lead to great change,” whether they are during a catastrophe, immediately after or in the years to come.

In trying to figure out the something she might do, Jillian discovers she has her mother’s bravery, her grandmother’s skill with a story – and her own mix of smarts and gumption.