Book Review by Augusta Scattergood
11-year old Delphine has figured out a lot about her family. Big Ma has no forgiveness in her heart for Cecile, the mother who deserted Delphine and her sisters. Her little sisters may be bothersome, but she’ll defend them to anyone who dares to criticize, especially their own flesh-and-blood mother. And her Pa for sure hasn’t told her all there is to know about the mother who now lives in California.
But like it or not, Delphine and her three sisters are being shipped across the country on an airplane to spend the summer with a mother they hardly know, and she’ll have to make the best of it.
So off they go—Delphine, Vonetta and Fern— from Brooklyn to Oakland in the summer of 1968 where they are greeted coolly by a mother who wishes she’d never had children. Right off the bat, on their first night at Cecile’s, she shoos them out of the house for Chinese take-out, forbids them to enter her kitchen, and enrolls them in a Black Panther day camp.
On their first morning in Oakland, Delphine reluctantly walks her sisters to the People’s Center, knowing it’s the only place they’ll get breakfast. Big Ma has warned them about Oakland—“nothing but a boiling pot of trouble cooking. All them riots.” But once at the Black Panther day camp, the three girls stay. And the characters they encounter are destined to open the girls’—as well as young readers’—eyes.
One of the beauties of Williams-Garcia’s middle-grade novel is her ability to introduce the important issues of race, prejudice, independence, revolution-- without continually banging young readers’ heads with the topics. Big Ma, the girls’ grandmother who moved from the South to Brooklyn when their mother took off, warns the girls about representing their race, to “act right” wherever they are. As Delphine and her sisters spend more time away from their grandmother and inside the People’s Center, the subtleties of their eye-opening experiences are quietly woven into the story. And what a terrific story this is!
Rita Williams-Garcia’s knowledge of the period is extensive. Her ability to describe this remarkable time and place (1968 Oakland, California) so that young readers understand the circumstances surrounding the Black Panthers and the American political climate is pitch perfect. Her child-friendly references— from President Kennedy to Cassius Clay to Mighty Mouse— make the story wondrous. This is historical fiction at its very best.
But truly, the story belongs to Delphine and her sisters. Rumor has it that more books on this appealing family may be in the works. I, as well as lots of young readers, will be waiting.
For a truly terrific interview with Rita Garcia-Williams, check out this recent issue of Horn Book. She explains the difference between writing for older kids and writing for her middle-grade audience.
I particularly appreciate this quote:
I like my younger readers to discover more; I like my older readers to wrestle with more.
And this, when asked about writing historical fiction for this audience:
I’m hoping younger readers will uncover more personal stories through the “live historians” in their homes and neighborhoods.
That’s one great thing kids can discover from books like One Crazy Summer. The time period is fresh enough to still have plenty of “live historians.” What an amazing resource for contemporary readers!
Thanks so much Augusta, for this intriguing review. I am eager to read One Crazy Summer. - Joyce