One Crazy Summer by Rita Williams- Garcia was a Newberry Honor, National Book Award Finalist, and the Coretta Scott King winner. This historical tale is about eleven year old, Delphine, nine year old, Vonetta, and seven year old Fern. They live in Brooklyn, NY with their father and grandmother. It is the summer of 1968, when the father decides it is time for the girls to meet their mother, Cecile. When I think about a relationship between a mother and her children I think about love, laughter, and joy. This relationship is anything but those qualities. Cecile, also known as Sister Zila, is a detached mother who lives in Oakland, CA. She abandoned her family seven years earlier to pursue her passion with poetry.
Once the girls arrive in California they are hardly acknowledged by their mother. Upon arriving at her green stucco house Cecile says, “Your room’s in the back. Bathroom across the hall. The daybeds roll out. That should be enough for y’all.” It is one thing to be unaffectionate toward your children, but to come out and say, “I didn’t send for you. Didn’t want you in the first place. Should have gone to Mexico to get rid of you when I had the chance.” I felt so bad for these children. They were longing for a mother. A hug. “A look of sorrow and a plea for forgiveness.”
That evening she sends the three of them out for Chinese take -out. The following morning she sends them to the Black Panther’s People Center for breakfast. She tells them, “Don’t kill yourself to get back here. Stay out till sundown.” The girls understand very quickly that their mother still doesn’t want a relationship with them. So, they make the best of their time there. They continue to go to the Black Panther’s People Center for breakfast and attend the Black Panthers day camp. It is here that they make friends and learn about the revolution and its people. They understand that the Black Panthers are about serving their community and protecting the rights of the black citizens.
Rita Williams Garcia does an amazing job of writing this historical tale. She is able to educate us about the past through the eyes of a child. My heart broke as they watched their mother being taken away by the police. We learn about arrests, rallies, advertising, and the revolution that they were a part of. I was quickly drawn into the characters, wanting to protect them and love them.
Delphine is a wonderful character; responsible, protective, thoughtful, loving, nurturing, respectful, just to name a few. I was so proud of her when she stood up to her mother. “I’m only eleven years old, and I do everything. I have to because you’re not there to do it. I’m only eleven years old, but I do the best I can. I don’t just up and leave.” Delphine then has an important conversation with her mother that will help her have a better understanding of why her mother is so detached and unemotional. Delphine asked her mother if she left because she couldn’t name her youngest child. Cecile’s response, “You’d have to be grown first before I explained. If I told you now, it would just be words.” Her advice, “Be eleven, Delphine. Be eleven while you can.”
So what is the real reason for leaving? Poetry? The Revolution? What can make you dislike your children that much that you can just walk away?
I was hoping to read an author’s note to give me more historical information about the Black Panther Party. For more information click Black Panther Party.