by Rita Williams-Garcia
The story of One Crazy Summer opens with three girls flying across the country to meet there mother. When I say "to meet," I do not mean "to meet up with." They are going to meet their mother for the first time in years--since she left them as babies and toddlers in the care of their father in Brooklyn. After a long flight from New York to San Francisco, the girls find themselves face to face with the woman who chose to leave, and this is where the "crazy summer" begins.
We hear this story in Delphine's practical and no-nonsense voice. At eleven-years-old, she is the eldest sister and has basically been the mother her two younger sisters, Vonetta and Fern never had. Delphine is serious and dignified and often must be the peacemaker between her sensitive little sisters. But what makes Delphine such an engaging protagonist is that every now and then, her kid side comes through. It is heartbreaking because you realize that even though she has taken charge in her mother's absence, it is only because someone had to. Delphine needed (and still needs) a mother just as badly as her little sisters, but as the oldest, she had to step up and be there for her sisters.
This isn't just your average coming-of-age, mother-daughter story, though. Did I mention that it is set in 1960s Oakland, California at the peak of the Black Panther movement? Definitely not your typical middle-grade/young-adult story setting. It soon becomes clear that Cecile (Delphine, Vonetta and Fern's mother) is involved in the movement in some mysterious way. In fact, on their first morning in California, Cecile sends the girls to the Black Panther day camp, where they encounter ideas and personalities that they have never faced before. It is fascinating to see the Black Panther activities through Delphine's eyes. She starts out suspicious, but soon Delphine (along with the reader) starts to see that the Black Panthers are about a lot more than the violence that the news and media (both then and now) portray them to be. One thing is for sure: that "crazy" summer is to be a summer of change--in Delphine, in her mother, in the world.
This is excellent writing about a part of American history that is rarely represented in historical fiction--especially for the under-twenty set. It's great for readers who think they don't like the historical fiction genre because the setting is not oppressive to the story. It provides the perfect frame to a moving story about a girl learning to want a mother's love again after years of having to deal without it.
Newbery Honor, 2011
Things to think about as you read One Crazy Summer:
-Setting (Notice how the historical setting/situation are used to enhance the tension in the story)
-Character development (The characters change a lot over the course of the story. What does this show/teach?)
-Symbolism (What objects and belongings are important? Do they possibly have symbolic meaning? What feelings or ideas might these objects represent?)
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