I am now going to read anything else Rita Williams-Garcia has published. Yes, One Crazy Summer was that impressive. Note: I tried very hard to make below spoiler-free and relatively short.
One Crazy Summer by Rita Williams-Garcia
Amistad, imprint of HarperCollins, 2010.
(hardback) 218 pages
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.–Publisher’s Comments
Delphine is 11-going-on-12, and so much more. The eldest of the three girls [Vonetta (9) and Fern (7)], Delphine is responsible for her sisters on their trip to see their estranged mother Cecile in Oakland, California, a world away from their home in Brooklyn with their dad and his mother, Big Ma. She is more than capable–but its when she has to look after herself that she is less experienced.
Delphine is a charming narrator, a mature voice and yet still a child, a daughter longing for an understanding of her mother’s motivations. Between what she remembers, sees, and what she has heard, Delphine tries to decipher the enigma that is her mother, Cecile/Nzila. Delphine often comes to the conclusion that her mother is just Crazy.
Crazy: 3rd definition. (of an angle, [Delphine’s Summer, Cecile/Nzila]) appearing absurdly out of place or in an unlikely position. –Oxford English.
Cecile and Big Ma are juxtaposed. Delphine is the following generation, sorting through the truths her grandmother’s and her mother’s lifestyles would encourage. Expectations are espoused. In Big Ma, expectations are created; in Cecile they are broken and gradually reformed. Neither are perfect, both have their draw-backs and benefits. One chooses what suits themselves—to a point.
Cecile, though given moments of compassionate consideration, remains a difficulty. Fortunately, her ultimately self-ish act did not lend her to favor another’s cause over her own. She chooses her self every time, not wholly submitting to The People either. She is determined to meet the world on her own terms—unrepentantly. I appreciated that after Cecile shares her own childhood with Delphine that Delphine is still angry. She is not a featureless object, she is an individualized human being who has suffered (and continues to suffer).
In One Crazy Summer Williams-Garcia populates this historically-set novel with individualized, named characters, not featureless objects generalized by role-fulfillment.
What is the importance of a Name? And how does one come into their own? How can Delphine be both child and mother at age 11-going-on-12? How can the girl’s mother be both Cecile and Nzila?—or can she, if she were to want to be. In circumstances that appear either/or—must an individual (or organization) be either/or? Hidden amidst the extremes there is life which necessarily abides in sacrifice, in compromises—and many of them worthwhile; or are they? Or is it “such as it is?”
In One Crazy Summer there is Family, Community. Delphine learns that she can depend on the individual strengths possessed by each younger sister. She is reminded that she has people who would help shoulder her loads, etc. The reader learns of the family, of the community within The Black Panthers. Along with Delphine (our narrator and guide), we become less afraid in the proffering of perspective; less ignorant.
In One Crazy Summer, we are reminded that perhaps we can wear more than one name even as we are reminded that there is a name that we can only give ourselves—in becoming who we would become—though not necessarily by choice alone, but by means of survival.
One Crazy Summer offers perspective over sermon. Historical insight is a byproduct of the story of three girls looking for their mother, of three girls looking for themselves. Cultural insight is laced as it ever is, in the everyday. Williams-Garcia makes painful racial encounters seamless in the story; not necessarily in matter-of-fact tones, but in a way that depicts ‘the usual’. It is both lovely (in craft) and hideous (in existence). One Crazy Summer is an exemplar of why showing over telling is the most effective way of relaying a story.
One Crazy Summer is artful in its subtleties. [The above thoughts are a mere scratch on a conversational surface.] It is lovely in that it is informative, explorative, and entertaining. It offers perspective without demanding audience–even as the audience cannot escape the wiles of an exquisite storyteller. Rita Williams-Garcia’s One Crazy Summer is a compelling, beautiful read.
A great review of this book @ Bib-Laura-graphy here.
Stacy Dillon @ Welcome to My Tweendom reviewed it here.
Hope you recognized this title from the alarmingly short list of US-based Middle-Grade/Young Adult authors of African descent published in 2010. I was planning to read One Crazy Summer anyway, but am glad to have put a check on two lists–do the same!