One Crazy Summer
Genre: Historical Fiction
Delphine Gaither is not happy to be going to California to stay with her long-absent mother, Cecile, no matter how much fun her Pa says it will be. She’s been told to look after her two younger sisters, nine-year-old Vonetta and seven-year-old Fern, during their month-long visit. While Delphine is the only one old enough to have memories of a mother known for writing on the walls and shouting a lot, she isn’t quite sure what to expect. It’s been seven years, after all.
Celine turns out to be nothing like the other mothers the girls know back home. She wears men’s pants, lives in a scarcely-furnished, green stucco house, and sends them for takeout every night instead of cooking dinner. For breakfast, Delphine is told to walk her sisters down to the community center and stay out of the house all day. The girls find themselves joining a summer program for young Black Panthers-in-training, and it quickly becomes apparent to Delphine that she’s going to need to put her foot down—and soon. No matter what, though it promises to be a summer none of them will ever forget!
In some ways, I’m torn about my feelings regarding this book. On the one hand, I feel like it is definitely important. In all of my reading, I’ve never come across anything quite like it. Most of my knowledge about the Black Panthers comes from textbooks, documentaries, and a particularly compelling episode of Quantum Leap. For the topic alone and the way Williams-Garcia makes it accessible to younger readers, I feel like this book should find its way to classroom shelves.
Also, the book’s literary merit isn’t really a question. The personality and character of each of the girls is round and dynamic; they possess unique voices and behave as expected for girls of their respective ages. Cecile is far more mysterious, but it’s satisfying to see her open up as the story progresses.
One of the techniques Williams-Garcia uses to great effect is the oral storytelling tradition. The story is told from Delphine’s point of you, and she narrates as if she’s speaking to someone. She repeats herself often throughout the book. For example, she’s constantly reminding the reader that Vonetta loves being the center of attention. She also uses a chorus-like rhythm to keep certain scenes moving by dropping the speech indicators from her dialogue when the girls get going with their questions and comments. Both of these strategies are common in oral storytelling, particularly in parts of Africa. Given the subject matter of the book, I can’t help but wonder if this was a deliberate decision on the author’s part.
What I didn’t understand was the father’s decision to send his three young daughters to California anyway. he hadn’t really heard anything about Cecile in years, and he must have been paying attention to the news. How could he have not known that Oakland was a hotbed of unrest in the summer of 1968? Did he believe something awful would happen to his daughters if they stayed in Brooklyn? Did he know what his ex-wife was up to and just hoped the girls would find a way to stop her/ These questions really bothered me as I read, jerking me from my suspension of disbelief multiple times throughout the short book.
Other parts of the book seemed unnecessary and derailed the pace of the book. I’m not entirely sure One Crazy Summer really needed a romantic subplot; while Hirohito and Delphine have their growing-up moment towards the end of the book, it just seemed added in for extra pages or a touch more drama. On the subject of Hirohito, what Japanese-American parent would ever name their child after the Japanese emperor during WWII, especially considering the treatment of Japanese-Americans during WWII?! But that’s just my two cents on that subject.
Overall, though, the book is sweet and enjoyable. As a record of a historical movement, it’s fairly important, so it’ll add another dimension to the diversity of a classroom shelf.
Despite some issues with character development and a plothole or two, One Crazy Summer is a good book for exploring later aspects of the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s.
- Fans of The Watsons Go to Birmingham, 1963
- People who enjoy history
- Anyone with younger siblings
- Bullying: some kids bully others
- Lying: characters lie to one another
- Other Illegal Activity: several characters engage in illegal activities throughout the book
- Physical Abuse: characters are neglected
- Prejudice: some character behave in a racist manner
- Supremacy: characters use supremacist language
- Violence: characters physically attack one another
- Change vs. Tradition
- Growing Up
- Right vs. Wrong
- Romantic Love
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