Sunday, July 3, 2011

One Crazy Summer - Rita Williams-Garcia

Title: One Crazy Summer
Author: Rita Williams-Garcia
Publisher: Amistad (Harper Collins), 2010 (Hardcover)
Length: 215 pages
Genre: Children's Historical Fiction
Started: July 2, 2011
Finished: July 2, 2011

From the inside cover:
Eleven-year-old Delphine has it together. Even though her mother, Cecile, abandoned her and her younger sisters, Vonetta and Fern, seven years ago. Even though her father and Big Ma will send them from Brooklyn to Oakland, California, to stay with Cecile for the summer. And even though Delphine will have to take care of her sisters, as usual, and learn the truth about the missing pieces of the past.

When the girls arrive in Oakland in the summer of 1968, Cecile wants nothing to do with them. She makes them eat Chinese takeout dinners, forbids them to enter her kitchen, and never explains the strange visitors with Afros and black berets who knock on her door. Rather than spend time with them, Cecile sends Delphine, Vonetta, and Fern to a summer camp sponsored by a revolutionary group, the Black Panthers, where the girls get a radical new education.

Set during one of the most tumultuous years in recent American history, one crazy summer is the heartbreaking, funny tale of three girls in search of the mother who abandoned them—an unforgettable story told by a distinguished author of books for children and teens, Rita Williams-Garcia.

This book felt a little different to me than most. Everyone who's read it has loved it (and for obvious reasons, it is excellent) but for me it excelled in its characters, not necessarily for the story or plot portrayed.

Delphine is 11, and is in charge of taking care of her sisters Vonetta (9) and Fern (7) while they are shipped off from Brooklyn to Oakland, California for one month during the summer of 1968 to meet their mother for the first time since she abandoned them seven years ago. The sisters have never really known their mother, so of course they have fabricated ideas of their mother in their head in spite of their father and grandmother's remarks. The girls aren't completely naive, the girls know they were abandoned and Delphine doesn't sugar coat it, they have a mother who gave birth to them, they don't have a mommy that takes care of them. Once they get to Oakland and actually meet Cecile, who also goes by her poet name Nzila, they realize she still isn't the mother they imagined. She's involved with the Black Panthers and cares more about her poetry than taking care of the girls, she would barely feed them if Delphine didn't insist that she do so (even though it's take out food all the time). During the day, she sends the girls to a breakfast program and summer camp run by the Black Panthers, and lets the girls fend for themselves during the weekends. It isn't until the end of the book where Cecile gets some redeeming moments, not to the point where she's anything other than a horrible mother, but more to the point where the girls realize she is what she is and she's not a horribly evil person, just that she wasn't cut out to be a parent.

Delphine makes this book, she's only 11 years old and is remarkably precocious and well-spoken for her age. She's street-smart to a certain extent (she lives in Brooklyn), but the racial climate of Oakland and the Black Panthers throws her for a loop at first because she hasn't experienced racism to that particular degree. Delphine's narration is wonderful, you get to know herself as a character, as well as her sisters, her mother, and the political climate of Oakland in a mature, but still childlike point of view. Every chapter focuses on one particular idea or plot point or character, and everything weaves together as you go along. I liked the focus on names and naming, 'cause I'm big on that myself, and it was interesting why Cecile chose the names she did for the girls, including what she chose for her alias for her poetry as well.

The ending kind of threw me for a loop, it didn't seem realistic and was rushed, but all in all, this was a really engaging story, purely because the characters were so wonderful.

Excellent novel, I can see why it was a Newbery Honor Book.

Thoughts on the cover:
I love it, it's quirky like the girls' summer, but still shows their personalities. I like that you can see the Chinatown motifs and the teal font used for the title, plus Vonetta's pose behind Fern is so like her character it's funny.

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