Sunday, February 9, 2014

One Crazy Summer by Rita Williams-Garcia

Delphine and her two sisters, Vonetta and Fern are leaving Brooklyn for California to visit, for the first time, the mother that abandoned them.  It's the summer of 1968, and the girl's mother, Cecile, wants nothing to do with them.  Delphine and her sisters spend their days at a summer camp being run by the Black Panthers.

Delphine has always taken care of her sisters.  She has her father, and her father's mother who lives with them, but she's always been the mother to her little sisters.  She feels more grown up then she really is, like she always has to make careful, thought out decisions.  She can't just be a kid.  Delphine sees things in black and white.  After attending the Black Panther camp, she starts to realize there's a lot of gray.  In the events that are happening around them, and in her mother as well.

Their mother went from being really nasty to sort of being fond of the girls awfully fast.  I mean, Cecile wasn't just like, "This wasn't my idea and I'm not pleased."  She was flat out mean and cruel to them.  Like, not feeding them cruel.  Like telling them she didn't want them then and didn't want them now.  How on Earth did Cecile ever agree they could even stay with her?  Why did the girl's father think this was a good idea?  It seems like a terrible choice!

Delphine and Cecile certainly have a moment when Cecile asks Delphine why she couldn't do the one thing she (Cecile) needed her to do and Delphine finally goes off on her.  She points out the she's 11, for heaven's sake, and she always has to do everything because Cecile wasn't there. That changes their relationship some.   I had been wanting Delphine to tell Cecile off for a while.  That woman was selfish!

We learn more about where Cecile came from, and it was a sad story.  I could certainly empathize why she wouldn't feel connected to her children.  But that's only going to help her kids understand a little.  All they know is that they don't have a mom around.  I'm not sure what a middle grade student's reaction would be to that story.  Would they be able to sympathize with her at all?  Or would they not be able to get it?

The girls all do some growing up over the course of the summer.  Delphine, in particular, learns to be more flexible and take more risks.  It was a good coming of age book set against a historical backdrop.  You certainly get a feel for what it was like in Oakland in 1968, and the discrimination people of color faced.  It also helped to show that while the Black Panthers were a militant group, they also focused on things like education and helping people get food who needed it.

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