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One Crazy Summer Paperback – December 27, 2011
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From School Library Journal
Starred Review. Grade 4–7—It is 1968, and three black sisters from Brooklyn have been put on a California-bound plane by their father to spend a month with their mother, a poet who ran off years before and is living in Oakland. It's the summer after Black Panther founder Huey Newton was jailed and member Bobby Hutton was gunned down trying to surrender to the Oakland police, and there are men in berets shouting "Black Power" on the news. Delphine, 11, remembers her mother, but after years of separation she's more apt to believe what her grandmother has said about her, that Cecile is a selfish, crazy woman who sleeps on the street. At least Cecile lives in a real house, but she reacts to her daughters' arrival without warmth or even curiosity. Instead, she sends the girls to eat breakfast at a center run by the Black Panther Party and tells them to stay out as long as they can so that she can work on her poetry. Over the course of the next four weeks, Delphine and her younger sisters, Vonetta and Fern, spend a lot of time learning about revolution and staying out of their mother's way. Emotionally challenging and beautifully written, this book immerses readers in a time and place and raises difficult questions of cultural and ethnic identity and personal responsibility. With memorable characters (all three girls have engaging, strong voices) and a powerful story, this is a book well worth reading and rereading.—Teri Markson, Los Angeles Public Library
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.
*Starred Review* Eleven-year-old Delphine has only a few fragmented memories of her mother, Cecile, a poet who wrote verses on walls and cereal boxes, played smoky jazz records, and abandoned the family in Brooklyn after giving birth to her third daughter. In the summer of 1968, Delphine’s father decides that seeing Cecile is “something whose time had come,” and Delphine boards a plane with her sisters to Cecile’s home in Oakland. What they find there is far from their California dreams of Disneyland and movie stars. “No one told y’all to come out here,” Cecile says. “No one wants you out here making a mess, stopping my work.” Like the rest of her life, Cecile’s work is a mystery conducted behind the doors of the kitchen that she forbids her daughters to enter. For meals, Cecile sends the girls to a Chinese restaurant or to the local, Black Panther–run community center, where Cecile is known as Sister Inzilla and where the girls begin to attend youth programs. Regimented, responsible, strong-willed Delphine narrates in an unforgettable voice, but each of the sisters emerges as a distinct, memorable character, whose hard-won, tenuous connections with their mother build to an aching, triumphant conclusion. Set during a pivotal moment in African American history, this vibrant novel shows the subtle ways that political movements affect personal lives; but just as memorable is the finely drawn, universal story of children reclaiming a reluctant parent’s love. Grades 4-7. --Gillian Engberg --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.
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Top Customer Reviews
Not unexpectedly, the girls' "mammal birth giver" is less than warm or receptive upon their arrival. She shows up late to claim them like so much baggage and then can't be bothered to cook or care for them or even waste time on them other than making a few offhand cruel comments. The caring part falls to the eldest, our narrator Delphine, who is amazingly good at it. She knows just how and when to break up a fight, how to keep her sisters from making a "grand Negro spectacle", and how to comfort and reassure even when she's far from comforted herself. You have to wonder how she got so good at all of that, especially since she lives with her father, Papa, and her grandmother, Big Ma. Don't you think that they should be parenting the younger girls so that Delphine can be a child herself? Are you getting that feeling again?
The majority of the book is about how Delphine and her sisters cope with their month in hostile territory. How they spend their days at the Black Panthers' summer camp. How they learn to deal with and even fit in with the other kids. How they adapt to the "black" identity they are being taught after their proper "Negro" upbringing. How they eat Chinese food every night until Delphine demands to be allowed into her mother's sacred kitchen because the girls need home cooking.
But behind it all, their mother's absent presence lurks, along with their father behind that. Cecile aka "Nzila" remains a mystery until nearly the tail end of the book, and the book is really about Delphine's (and her sisters') drive to reach their mother somehow. Over and over again the girls reach out in small, tentative ways, and over and over again they grasp little but air. Nevertheless, Cecile/Nzila's presence slowly and subtly grows in the background until we - and Delphine - can begin to make out at least the bare outlines of a real person. Maybe even a person who isn't quite so contemptible as we think. Maybe there's even the slightest bit of sympathy left in her.
And then we find out the horrible truth that crystallizes those niggling feelings, those cold little suspicions of Papa and even Big Ma. Suddenly we learn just exactly what kind of man sends his kids alone to a mother who doesn't want them. At this point the book almost tries to convince us that a miraculous transformation has occurred and maybe Cecile isn't such a bad mother after all. But the attempt at a feel-good ending isn't quite convincing, and maybe we still don't really like Cecile all that much. But maybe we understand her just a bit better, and maybe we realize that our contempt has been misplaced. Cecile may not exactly be honorable, but our contempt should be reserved for the man who created the whole situation in the first place.
This is a very hard book to rate. Overall, the book is very well written. Ms. Williams-Garcia has a way with words, and she's drawn up some believable, three-dimensional characters. Delphine's narrative voice is pitch-perfect for the overly mature and responsible woman-child that she is, and I could see the world clearly through her eyes. Ms. Williams-Garcia is at her best in describing the close/dysfunctional relationship among the three motherless little girls, and their ambiguous relationship with the adults in their lives.
The parts of the book dealing with the Black Panthers and life in 1968 Oakland felt a little weaker to me, but then, it almost seems like just the background to the story Ms. Williams-Garcia really wanted to tell: the story of a predatory man, the girl he used, and the rippling effects on the generation they created. That story is powerfully told, but it's not a pleasant story. It's the kind of story that leaves you both heartbroken and in need of a bath.
Although there is nothing overtly violent in the book, there is a level of cruelty, even depravity, that I think calls for a more mature audience than the intended target of this book. In order to appreciate this book, children must be able to move beyond black/white, good/bad dichotomies and be able to understand nuance and circumstance. I'd suggest that parents of younger readers provide some guidance, perhaps even read it with your child. Although the publisher's guidelines say that it is for age 9-12, I wouldn't recommend it for kids much younger than 12 without adult support.
In the summer of 1968, eleven year old Delphine and her two younger sisters, Vonetta and Fern, take a plane from Brooklyn to visit their mother Cecile in Oakland, California. Her father and Big Ma don't exactly approve of crazy Cecile, but keeping the children from their mother forever is not the solution either. As every good sister does, Delphine takes care of her younger sisters, especially now on this new journey and under instructions from her family to do so. Cecile isn't exactly a fairy tale mother. Rather than cook homemade meals, she gives them money to buy Chinese take-out. Cecile's kitchen is off limits. Strange men in Afros and black berets knock on her door demanding her assistance. Cecile sends her three daughters to a summer camp headed by the revolutionary Black Panthers. Delphine's summer in Oakland isn't exactly the kind of experience her teachers back home would expect in a "How I Spent My Summer Vacation" essay!
In ONE CRAZY SUMMER, readers see the historical changes through the eyes of Delphine. With humor, honesty, and innocence, Delphine comments on the events unfolding before her in the way only a child can. Delphine is quite conscious of the differences between blacks and whites in society, yet she is also a girl who responds from her heart rather than from slogans or mandates from others. Delphine is intelligent, taking the initiative to educate herself and to protect her sisters, yet she is still a little girl who longs for a mother to protect her. In ONE CRAZY SUMMER, Delphine embarks on a journey that will change her forever, not only in the societal changes she witnesses but also a journey that will bring her closer to understanding her mother and herself.
ONE CRAZY SUMMER takes a reader into the heart of history through the eyes of a child. What better way to tell the story to young readers? Delphine's voice sees what history books do not. Through Delphine's eyes, Rita Williams-Garcia gives life to memorable characters who inspire the imagination. Delphine's innocence and intelligence pinpoint the essentials in a way a self-conscious adult does not. Her humor brings a delightful, refreshing view of the world before her, a view that tempers some of the tragic events that accompany the struggles of this era. No matter what one's age, young reader, young adult or adult, ONE CRAZY SUMMER leaves a reader with the wonderful lasting and speechless satisfaction of entering a world created by a master storyteller. In addition to young readers, ONE CRAZY SUMMER is very highly recommended to all those adults, white and black, who like Delphine and this reader, witnessed the unfolding of the Civil Rights Movement in their hometowns. Quite simply, no other story has spoken to me, or the child that I was back then, as does this novel. ONE CRAZY SUMMER gives voice to all those things seen, all those emotions, which often remain unspoken to others decades later. When I reached the last line of the author's notes, a tear of joy filled my eye from the thankfulness that Rita Williams-Garcia put this story in words. ONE CRAZY SUMMER is an outstanding book, a book this reader expects to win several awards.
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