Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Review: "One Crazy Summer" by Rita Williams-Garcia

Title: One Crazy Summer
Author: Rita Williams-Garcia
Publisher: Amistad, 2010

Delphine and her two younger sisters, Vonetta and Fern, are off to Oakland, CA to spend the summer with their mother, Cecile. But this is no happy reunion, and Oakland is not all sunshine and Disneyland. Cecile wants next to nothing to do with her daughters, having walked out on them 7 years earlier. Plus, it's 1968, and the Black Panthers are working hard in this poor community to gain rights and spread the word.

Cecile, or Sister Nzila, is involved, albeit grudgingly, in the cause. Throughout the four weeks they spend in Oakland, Delphine and her sisters get mixed up in one thing after another, attending the Black Panthers day camp and learning about the revolution and its people.

Winner of the Coretta Scott King Award and the recipient of a Newbery Honor, this middle grade novel certainly deserves them. Narrated by 11-year-old Delphine, the writing is sharp and to the point. Delphine doesn't dance around issues (unless it comes to her own feelings about certain things). The writing is excellent, with language perfect for older elementary students and middle schoolers. I was pulled right into the story, could feel the tension between Cecile and her daughters, the unspoken words that Delphine was just dying to say yet too afraid to let out.

I loved how all of the characters were so fully realized. Cecile in particular struck me as particularly complex and layered. It's clear she never really wanted to be a mother, at least not in the traditional sense. She doesn't take care of her children as a mother is expected to, and many would say she is a bad mother. But she knows what she's fighting for, and will not back down in the face of oppression. She's passionate about her poetry; Delphine calls it praying, as Cecile bends over her work. Cecile is an incredibly strong and independent woman, admirable at least for that, even though she proves herself to be very flawed in other regards.

And how many books for younger readers are there about the Black Panthers? I learned a lot from this book about that part of American history; not much of it was covered during my formal education besides a few mentions in AP U.S. Names are mentioned and a bit of their histories are thrown in, and interested readers are given just enough to find more information through their own research. (This would be a great companion to a school unit about the Civil Rights Movement.)

Williams-Garcia writes this in her acknowledgments: "I wanted to write this story for those children who witnessed and were part of necessary change. Yes. There were children" (p 217). I will not forget anytime soon that children were involved in this revolution, thanks to Delphine and One Crazy Summer.

Disclosure: I checked out this book from my library.

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