Title: One Crazy Summer
Author: Rita Williams-Garcia
ISBN: 97800607960885
Pages: 218 pages
Publisher/Date: Amistad, an imprint of HarperCollins Publishers, c2010.

“We were a block away from the green stucco house, chatting and laughing. Then we stopped walking. All three of us. There were three police cars parked outside of Cecile’s house. One in the driveway and two along the curb. Policemen lined the walk. Lights flashed on top of their cars onto the streets. Red, white, and blue lights everywhere. We inched up, the happiness knocked out of us.
Cecile and two Black Panthers. Hands behind their backs. Handcuffed. Being led out of the house and down the walkway. I could hardly breathe. (167)

Eleven-year-old Delphine and her two younger sisters are being placed on a plane for the first time. Leaving behind their father and maternal grandmother in Brooklyn, they’re forced to spend several weeks of their summer in Oakland, California with Cecile, the mother who abandoned them seven years ago. Cecile is about as happy as her children with the arranged visit. Their mother sends the sisters to a summer camp sponsored by the Black Panthers, where they receive a whole new education about black history and pride. When Cecile is arrested for her involvement with the group, will Delphine, Vonetta and Fern continue to fend for themselves? Or will they finally learn the benefits of having their mother in their life again?

I know some colleagues who have remarked that the experiences the girls go through and especially Delphine’s reactions to the situations seem too advanced for her tender eleven years old. But others have argued that her circumstances have forced her to grow up early, and it’s nice to see a child of questionable upbringing rise to the challenge and take responsibility for not only herself but her younger siblings. It’s overcoming adversity at it’s best. Regardless of how you feel about her circumstances and reactions, it’s impressive how Delphine is able to observe and process her surroundings. Even her uninterested mother comments at the end of the book that Delphine should “Be eleven while you can.” (210)

I have a coworker using this book for her next mother/daughter book group, which I think is a really good choice because of the mature themes of the Civil Rights Movement. Delphine asks some powerful questions regarding the events of that time. There is the story of Bobby Hutton, who was shot multiple times by police two days after Martin Luther King Jr. was killed. The Black Panthers are planning a rally in order to honor Bobby Hutton and urge the renaming of a park in his honor. Delphine observes

“Wouldn’t Little Bobby rather be alive than be remembered? Wouldn’t he rather be sitting out in the park than have the park named after him? I wanted to watch the news. Not be in it. The more I thought about it, the more I had my answer.” (133)

The settings and environment are brought to life by Rita Williams-Garcia’s vivid descriptions. When the girls leave for California, Delphine counts how many black people are in the airport, and informs readers that her grandmother expects the oldest black woman boarding the plane to look out for her grandchildren. Also, Delphine relates her awareness of racism and the novelty of her race to some people when she talks about strangers trying to take pictures of her and her sisters. While on the plane she recognizes that they are serving as representatives for the entire race in a way that white people don’t have to worry about.

While it’s a thought-provoking book, I didn’t fall in love with it the way everyone else seems to be embracing it. In one year, this book has won four, yes FOUR, awards.

  • 2011 Coretta Scott King Award Winner
  • 2011 Newbery Honor Book
  • 2011 Scott O’Dell Prize for Historical Fiction
  • 2010 National Book Award Finalist

You’ll see in the picture that there’s barely enough room on the cover for all the awards stickers that it’s received. I just think that adults might get more out of it than the audience it’s geared for, with the focus being on such an abstract political movement. There are other books with the identity “what’s-in-a-name” focus that I think might ring truer for the younger set. And while there are a very small number of books that deal with the Black Panthers for this age group, I hope that’s not influencing people’s opinions of the book.