Thursday, November 18, 2010

One Crazy Summer, by Rita Williams-Garcia

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.

8 comments:

Mary Witzl said...

Well, whether I'd love it or not, you've got me wanting to read this book! I think books about cold mothers must be difficult to write because it would so easy to indulge in pathos. I wouldn't mind learning more about the Black Panthers and seeing them portrayed in a gentler light, so I'll keep an eye out for this one.

Vijaya said...

Because I'm such a sucker for HF, I'll probably pick this one up at the library ... thanks for that honest review. Gee, are you putting these up at Amazon as well. They're so honest.

Anne Spollen said...

Nice review, as always. And no,I can't imagine plunking kids down on a plane when they haven't been invited - really ever, regardless of year.

I'm terrible at predicting Newberrys. Lately, I've been like, "No, that can't be right."

But I might look out for this one at the library. It sounds like it has some good elements in it, even if it is flawed.

Marcia said...

Mary -- Very good point about the pathos. Cold mothers can make for some pretty dreary literature, too, unless you have a way to counteract the downer effect.

Vijaya -- Yep, I'm also a sucker for HF. No, I'm not posting the reviews anywhere else. There doesn't seem much point to reviewing if you're not going to be honest, because I think a review owes readers that, but I review only books that I'm basically recommending. I don't want to bash anyone; this business is tough for us all and the only perfect book is the Bible. So if I don't like a book, I normally pass on reviewing it. I've only reviewed one book I couldn't recommend (The Shack).

Anne -- I can't predict them either. I've done so exactly twice. Usually I can name a couple of the titles that'll end up either as honor books or with one of the other awards, but pegging the Newbery itself is hard.I'm heartened by how often unknown and new writers can come within striking distance.

Jeff King said...

Sounds like a good read.

thx for the review.

annebingham said...

I read this just a couple of weeks ago. I liked it in many ways, but wished the mom's backstory had come up a little earlier in the book. The plane trip troubled me, too, but I think that's a problem for adults, especially parent-type adults. I bet not one kid in the age group the book was written for would raise that objection.

lotusgirl said...

Interesting review. I'm not sure it's my type of book. I loved The Penderwicks though.

Marcia said...

Jeff -- It is a good read. It just didn't blow me away, is all.

Anne -- That's an interesting thought about the backstory. Since the plot was basically about the kids/mom estrangement, I suppose that couldn't come up until the climax. And the dad and grandma wouldn't have explained it since they weren't sympathetic to her. Some hints, though, might have been possible. I suppose doing it the way she did points up a theme: "Things aren't always what they seem" or "There are always two sides to a story." I'll bet too that the kids accepted the flight just fine.

lotusgirl -- I agree; for me The Penderwicks worked much better.