One Crazy Summer by Rita Williams-Garcia ARC
Release Date: Jan. 26, 2010
IQ "We all have our la-la-la song. The thing we do when the world isn't singing a nice tune to us. We sing our own nice tune to drown out the ugly." pg. 90
One Crazy Summer is about three sisters; Delphine, Vonetta and Fern. The sisters are sent by their father to Oakland, CA to visit their mother (Cecile) during the summer. Their mother left them years ago (after the birth of Fern, the youngest) and doesn't seem too happy to see them. Their mother is not what they expected a mother to be like; she doesn't cook or supervise them all that much, she's a poet and sometimes works with the Black Panthers. She sends Delphine, Voneeta, and Fern to the Black Panthers People's Center where they can get free breakfast and learn about the work of the Black Panthers amongst other things.
There's a real lack of historical fiction about poc (I'm going to write a post about this over the holidays), so I was quite pleased to receive this book as it's one of the few historical fiction books about the Black Panthers and it's for younger readers. I don't think younger children learn about the Black Panthers till 7th or 8th grade and I like how One Crazy Summer is a book for younger kids about a part of African American (and ultimately, American) history that is not always talked about.
The characters are well written with interesting characteristics. Anyone who is the oldest of siblings will identify with Delphine. Delphine was my favorite (in large part due to her being the oldest as I am so I could identify with her), although at times I felt that she acted a bit too grown-up for her age (she's entering the sixth grade), but then again that is common with the oldest. Delphine is very candid and she was definitely the best choice to narrate the story. Vonetta is the second youngest and she's struggling between having loyalty to her sisters and being accepted by the children of Oakland who also attend the Black Panthers People's Center. The children especially like to make fun of Fern because she carries a white doll around with her all the time and they think she's ashamed to be black. This embarrasses Vonetta. Fern is a cute, precocious child (I think between the age of 5-7) who has one of the best scenes in the whole book at the end. "Crazy Kelvin" ( a young, zealous, Black Panther) was an odd twist that I didn't see coming. Cecile is a great poet and I agree with Doret, her poems, especially "I Birthed a Nation" are reminiscent of Nikki Giovanni's poems (specifically "ego trippin'").
Learning about the Black Panthers through the girls' eyes is one of the best parts of the book. They see this strange African American men who wear all black, black berets and have Afros. They refer to each other as "brother" and "sister". Oftentimes we only see negative images of the Black Panthers and although they were violent, they also had a number of good programs. They offered free breakfast to kids, educated the and taught them to be Black and proud. I also loved reading about famous African Americans of the time, including Cassius Clay (aka Muhammad Ali, I never knew his non-Muslim name was Cassius Clay!).
The ending is satisfying and I would be interested in seeing a sequel when the girls are older. One Crazy Summer has a little bit of everything; history, action, romance and humor. I would definitely recommend pre-ordering the book and giving it as a belated Christmas present to a younger reader in your life. 5th grade and up.
Disclosure: received from Jana at HarperCollins. Thanks Jana!