It's the summer of 1968, and eleven-year-old Delphine and her two younger sisters, Vonetta and Fern, fly from NYC to Oakland, CA, to visit the mother who abandoned them shortly after Fern's birth some seven years ago. The trouble is, though the girls visualize themselves surfing, spotting stars in soda shops, and visiting Disneyland, their mother Cecile just says, "I didn't send for y'all in the first place." The most motherly thing Cecile does is show up to collect them at the airport and admit "These are mine" to the stewardess who hands them over to her. Once they reach Cecile's house they are relieved of their money, fed once a day on Chinese take-out, forbidden to even step foot in the kitchen (where Cecile writes poetry and publishes it on her own small printing press) -- and sent to a Black Panther day camp to stay out of Cecile's hair. Though they're certain their father and grandmother, Big Ma, would be appalled at this treatment -- the adults consider Cecile crazy -- they also feel the girls can't be kept from knowing their mother forever. So the trio must stick it out for one month.
All three girls are strong characters. Delphine is conscientious, plain-spoken and humorous; Vonetta is a social-climber prone to the dramatic; and Fern observant and cagey. There are a number of good lines, and the interweaving of historical tidbits is smooth. This book has gotten a lot of love and plenty of Newbery buzz.
One of the most striking aspects of the novel is the portrayal of Black Panthers as more than strident revolutionaries. Particularly convincing is the fact that we don't just see a dramatization of events that made headline news, as we do in many historical novels. This book brings the Black Panthers all the more to life because it shows us the daily minutiae -- the gentleness, the teaching of children to respect themselves and their race, the providing of meals. I couldn't set this book down without concluding there was more range and depth to the Black Panthers than what we saw in newspapers and on TV in 1968. Without respecting them more. To me, this is the book's greatest achievement.