Reviews for One Crazy Summer
Booklist Reviews 2010 February #1
*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. Copyright 2010 Booklist Reviews.
BookPage Reviews 2010 February
Childhood memories spark a new mother-daughter story
When she began to write her eighth novel, Rita Williams-Garcia decided to try something different. “Every writer should get a little antsy once they get too familiar with the worlds they create—if that happens, you’re not working hard enough, and there’s not enough in it for you as a writer,” she says in an interview from her home in Queens, New York. “I have a very different background from the kids I tend to write about, so I thought, for a change, why not tap into the childhood I did have?”
And so she did, setting One Crazy Summer on the West Coast rather than in her usual locale of New York City. “My sister, brother and I were always amusing ourselves in the wide-open spaces of Seaside, California. I was determined to have the three girls in my story run around outside in California in the 1960s, too.”
Eleven-year-old Delphine and younger sisters Vonetta and Fern live in Brooklyn with their father, Papa, and grandmother, Big Ma. The adults decide to have the girls spend the summer of 1968 in Oakland, California, with their mother, Cecile, who left them after Fern was born. Big Ma has never forgiven her, but Papa prevails, and off they go.
The scenes depicting the girls at airports are just a few of the many moments in One Crazy Summer wherein the author’s gift for combining everyday settings with social commentary and wry wit make for memorable, but not heavy-handed, reading. Delphine rolls her eyes (and bites her tongue) when she and her sisters are stared at as if “on display at the Bronx Zoo,” and the girls engage in what Williams-Garcia calls “colored counting.” It’s an activity she and her siblings “did everywhere. It was a time when, in public places, you might not see a lot of African-American people. We’d count how many of us were there, how many words we got to say on TV.”
These small but telling moments are the ones that most interest Williams-Garcia. “Usually I don’t like to do ‘the race book’ because it’s not how people live,” she says. “Not to say racism doesn’t exist, but it’s not this moment-to-moment consciousness. I like to include the domestic, intimate things about race and identity that never really make it into books or media—you mainly get big or dramatic events of racism, violence or discrimination.”
Thus, when none other than the Black Panthers become part of the sisters’ everyday lives, there aren’t cinematic goings-on at every turn. Sure, the girls initially are anxious when Cecile sends them on all-day visits to the Panthers-run community center, where they have free breakfast and learn about the group’s political causes and views. And the political rally at book’s end certainly is exciting.
But in between, the children develop friendships and enjoy being part of something larger than themselves, even if they understand only some of what’s going on at the center. Cecile keeps a printing press for the Panthers in her kitchen, which she fiercely protects as her own space for working, thinking and writing her poetry.
Cecile and the other women in One Crazy Summer—smart, strong, often unrepentant—are in many ways like Williams-Garcia’s own late mother, whose influence was central to another change in approach for the author. Her previous work—including the 2009 National Book Award Finalist Jumped—“always seemed to mourn the loss of childhood,” she says. This time, “I decided to celebrate my experiences. My mother was the super-mother of all mothers; she made it clear there was only one woman in her house, and my sister and I did not qualify.”
With that in mind, she wanted to have a chasm between mother and children in One Crazy Summer. “I respect the difference between parent and child. Delphine and her sisters haven’t earned their mother’s story, and she hasn’t earned their forgiveness.”
Ultimately, what is attainable for Cecile and her children is a truce of sorts, one characterized by hope for mother and daughters, as well as the America they’re living in.
As for Williams-Garcia, herself the mother of two daughters, she’s hoping to challenge herself even more via her next book, a gaming novel: “I’m estrogen-ed out—it’s time for me to write about a boy.”
Linda M. Castellitto writes from North Carolina. Copyright 2010 BookPage Reviews.
Horn Book Guide Reviews 2010 Fall
Eleven-year-old Delphine and her two younger sisters spend the summer of 1968 in Oakland visiting the mother who deserted them and getting an unexpected education in revolution from the Black Panthers. Williams-Garcia writes vividly about that turbulent summer through the intelligent, funny, blunt voice of Delphine, who observes outsiders and her own family with shrewdness and a keen perception. Copyright 2010 Horn Book Guide Reviews.
Horn Book Magazine Reviews 2010 #2
It's the summer of 1968, and eleven-year-old Delphine reluctantly shepherds her two younger sisters on their trip from Brooklyn to Oakland, where the mother who deserted them now lives. Thoroughly coached by her grandmother about how little Negro girls should behave to avoid scenes, Delphine maintains her own sensibility about what is appropriate and makes sure her sisters toe the line. Their mother Cecile is far from welcoming, sending them each day to the People's Center run by the Black Panthers to keep them out of her way while she writes her poetry. At the center, the girls get free food and an education in revolution. Williams-Garcia writes about that turbulent summer through the intelligent, funny, blunt voice of Delphine, who observes outsiders and her own family with shrewdness and a keen perception of why they each behave the way they do. Never afraid to stand up to anyone or anything, Delphine copes with her equally strong-willed mother calmly, "because that's how you treat crazy people." She takes over when she has to, and during the course of their month-long visit she refines her understanding of her mother and herself. The setting and time period are as vividly realized as the characters, and readers will want to know more about Delphine and her sisters after they return to Brooklyn with their radical new ideas about the world. Copyright 2010 Horn Book Magazine Reviews.
Kirkus Reviews 2010 January #2
A flight from New York to Oakland, Calif., to spend the summer of 1968 with the mother who abandoned Delphine and her two sisters was the easy part. Once there, the negative things their grandmother had said about their mother, Cecile, seem true: She is uninterested in her daughters and secretive about her work and the mysterious men in black berets who visit. The sisters are sent off to a Black Panther day camp, where Delphine finds herself skeptical of the worldview of the militants while making the best of their situation. Delphine is the pitch-perfect older sister, wise beyond her years, an expert at handling her siblings: "Just like I know how to lift my sisters up, I also knew how to needle them just right." Each girl has a distinct response to her motherless state, and Williams-Garcia provides details that make each characterization crystal clear. The depiction of the time is well done, and while the girls are caught up in the difficulties of adults, their resilience is celebrated and energetically told with writing that snaps off the page. (Historical fiction. 9-12) Copyright Kirkus 2010 Kirkus/BPI Communications.All rights reserved.
Library Media Connection Reviews 2010 March/April
At first glance, one would assume this book to be humorous, but the plot is anything but comical. This is the story of an incredibly mature 11-year-old Delphine, who, along with her two younger sisters, is being sent from Brooklyn by their father, to spend time with their estranged mother in Oakland, California. The younger girls don't remember their mother and don't know that she abandoned them, so they are excited to be visiting, and are certain she will welcome them with open arms. It is the summer of 1968 and Black Panther activism, and the girls are in the middle of all the action as their mother sends them to the community center. There they learn about the Vietnam War, race riots, protest marches, canvassing, and handing out pamphlets. This novel is unique because of its setting and point of view. Modern young readers will find it interesting to read about the conflicting views of the African-American community at that time, as I was. They certainly will be intrigued by the pl ght of these three children who are caught up in the major issues of that time, made all the more poignant by the insightful first-person narrative of this precocious young girl. Highly Recommended. Nancye Starkey, Librarian, Lake Placid (Florida) Middle School ¬ 2010 Linworth Publishing, Inc.
Publishers Weekly Reviews 2010 January #1
Williams-Garcia (Jumped) evokes the close-knit bond between three sisters, and the fervor and tumultuousness of the late 1960s, in this period novel featuring an outspoken 11-year-old from Brooklyn, N.Y. Through lively first-person narrative,readers meet Delphine, whose father sends her and her two younger sisters to Oakland, Calif., to visit their estranged mother, Cecile. When Cecile picks them up at the airport, she is as unconventional as Delphine remembers ("There was something uncommon about Cecile. Eyes glommed onto her. Tall, dark brown woman in man's pants whose face was half hidden by a scarf, hat, and big dark shades. She was like a colored movie star"). Instead of taking her children to Disneyland as they had hoped, Cecile shoos them off to the neighborhood People's Center, run by members of the Black Panthers. Delphine doesn't buy into all of the group's ideas, but she does come to understand her mother a little better over the summer. Delphine's growing awareness of injustice on a personal and universal level is smoothly woven into the story in poetic language that will stimulate and move readers. Ages 9-12. (Jan.) [Page 47]. Copyright 2010 Reed Business Information.
School Library Journal Reviews 2010 March
Gr 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 [Page 170]. Copyright 2008 Reed Business Information.
VOYA Reviews 2010 June
Despite her creative name, Delphine is a steady soul, old for her age at eleven-going-on-twelve. Her mother, Cecile, abandoned the family years ago, leaving Delphine with the weight of caring for her two younger sisters. After all this time, Delphine and her sisters are sent to California to spend the summer of 1968 with a mother they can barely remember and who still appears to have no interest in her children. Expecting a summer of Disneyland and movie stars, the girls get a rude awakening when they see Cecile. On their very first morning there, Cecile gives the girls directions to a community center and makes it clear she doesn't expect to see them until dinner. The center turns out to be run by the Black Panthers, and the siblings spend their summer in revolutionary day camp. Preconceptions are shattered and the summer comes to a close with surprising results. Told in first person, this novel skillfully invites readers into the organized, responsible mind of Delphine, and as her worldview expands, her character becomes all the more genuine and engaging. The historical details sprinkled throughout the book do not seem forced; rather, they lend authenticity to the setting, and the portrayal of the Black Panthers breaks with the harsher stereotypes. All in all, this is a great read for fans of both modern and historical works.--Jennifer McConnel 4 Q 4 P M J Copyright 2010 Voya Reviews.