In the summer of 1968, after travelling from Brooklyn to Oakland, California, to spend a month with the mother they barely know, eleven-year-old Delphine and her two younger sisters arrive to a cold welcome as they discover that their mother, a dedicated poet and printer, is resentful of the intrusion of their visit and wants them to attend a nearby Black Panther summer camp.
Eleven year old Delphine has a story to tell, unsure of the ending, she is ever ready to vocalize her thoughts and feelings. She is upset, confused, angry, spunky and self righteous.
Her mother Cecile left seven years ago, slamming the door as she never looked back. Abandoning Delphine, tiny little baby Fern, and two year old Vonetta was effortless. While their father and grandmother provided love and security, young Delphine became mother to her siblings.
In the summer of 1968, they were sent to Oakland, California to stay with a mother who was none too happy to see them. Instead of embraces, they received neglect. Instead of a welcome, they were once again reminded they were not wanted.
Instead of spending time with her children, Cecile sent them to a summer camp run by members of the Black Panthers.
Deftly weaving this important historical time frame with the poignancy of three struggling little girls, the author does a superb job of depicting both the turmoil of the civil rights movement and the internal tumult of the children.
This is more than a coming of age story of a young girl; It is also a tale of a movement struggling to succeed against incredible odds.
During one crazy summer Delphine learns more than she bargained for, including the fact that, like the Black Panthers, her mother's beginning was filled with complicated obstacles.
The author is a master of telling a poetic tale of three little girls in search of a mother's love and the difficult struggle of anything in life that is worth fighting for.
Read, laugh, weep and sigh at the sheer beauty of a complicated situation filled with the contradictions of anger, hurt and understanding leading to forgiveness.
And now, in the summer of 1968, the three girls are on their way across the country to Oakland to spend a summer with their absentee mother. The younger girls arrive with dreams of hugs and kisses from mom, sunny days on the beach, and trips to Disneyland. Those hopes are dashed pretty quickly – instead it’s going to be greasy take-out food, a mother who resents their presence in her house, and days spent at the free summer program led by the local Black Panthers.
As a historical novel, one of the strengths of this story is that it makes the political into the personal. Instead of dropping these three girls into a major historical moment from the history of the Black Panthers, as is the temptation in historical fiction, Garcia-Williams instead gives us a family story that takes place within the context of day-to-day life among the people who made up the movement. The story shows a side of the Black Panthers that doesn’t get a lot of attention now, and as Delphine points out didn’t get noticed even at the time – the free community breakfasts and peaceful rallies instead of the confrontational tactics that are usually remembered. Their sudden relationship with the Black Panthers does change the girls significantly, making them take a closer look at their own identity as well as the social change that is happening around them, but never in a way that is didactic. It just grows out of the story.
Williams-Garcia also manages to make the late-sixties setting always present, slipping in details about television shows or clothes, without making it feel too distant. The details she chooses are evocative enough to give a sense of time, but relatable enough that kids won’t feel alienated in that capital-H Historical Fiction kind of way. As with any great historical fiction, the center of the novel is not the history, but instead a universal story, in this case a family story about both the struggle for the love of a parent and the search for a personal identity.
Cecile is not like any mother that these girls have ever seen – her kitchen is used for writing and printing poems, not for laundry and making dinner. In a children’s story where three little girls are sent to stay with their distant, uncaring mother, it is easy to expect the kind of trite sea-change that would lead to Cecile suddenly turning into a maternal figure. Instead, she seems to develop a grudging respect for the three girls – a growth arc that is both more interesting and more true to the character than what could have been a stock character reversal.
The family dynamic between the three sisters is a treat to read. These are three very different girls – responsible almost-grown-up Delphine, dramatic and needy Vonetta, and set-in-her-ways Fern who notices things around her. While they bicker and argue between themselves, as siblings do, they are also fiercely loyal to each other, especially any time that they step outside of the primarily-black community where they live. When they go on the offensive they present a hysterical united front to the world - these girls will batter down any takers with a wall of little-girl patter coming from three sides. Their relationship is a big part of what makes this book such a delight.
If you were following the Mock Newbery Awards before the official announcement of the ALA youth media awards, you've probably heard this title bandied about. A lot of people predicted it would win, so I was not surprised to see it on the Newbery Honor list this year. When I needed an audiobook for my commute and saw it available at work, I snatched it up. I wasn't really sure what to expect. At first I was a little disappointed by the lack of action in the story. The tight focus on Delphine, our first person narrator, and her family made this extremely character-centric. Though 1968-69 was a very intense time, the plot of this story is much more subdued and introspective. The number of historical details expertly laced into the story struck me only after I'd finished the book and started looking in to some of the events and people mentioned. We learn naturally, as Delphine mentions things like her uncle being away, or sorting newspapers. The family interactions, especially between Delphine and her sisters, ring true and were made all the richer by Sisi Aisha Johnson. While I'm not sure it's the type of story that many children would choose on their own (and I'm pretty sure I may not have picked it up without prompting), it would make an excellent read-aloud and discussion starter.
A great historical novel makes the reader feel like she's there and One Crazy Summer did that for me. I drank in all the details of 1968 Oakland. But, I dunno... this is one of those books where things happened, but it kinda didn't feel like anything happened... I can appreciate the fact that it's bringing history to life for kids, but I think it'll need some pushing for kids to pick it up.
My sisters and I had stayed up practically all night California dreaming about what seemed like the other side of the world. We saw ourselves riding wild waves on surfboards, picking oranges and apples off fruit trees, filling out autograph books with signatures from movie stars we'd see in soda shops. Even better, we saw ourselves going to Disneyland.
But they don't go to Disneyland. They go to Black Panther Summer Camp. Delphine, Vonetta and Fern learn about the movement, about the Panthers themselves (who they've only seen in news stories), and about each other. Delphine, the only of the three who remembers her to begin with, also gets to learn about the mother that abandoned them.
But this isn't necessarily a book about the Black Panthers or the 60s or even finding a mother. This is mostly a sister book. There's Fern, the baby, who has carried around a (white) baby doll for as long as anyone can remember and is always ready to throw out a "surely" in support of her sisters. Vonetta who constantly seeks attention like the middle child she is, and is desperate to make friends with the most fashionable girls at camp, even at the expense of her sisters. Then there's Delphine. She promised her Pa she would take care of her younger sisters, like she always has, and it's her job to keep them out of trouble (and keep them from killing each other). She's saved up money to pay the fines on the books she checked out from the library to read to her sisters each night before bed. She plans activities for the three of them to do in order to make the most of their trip to California. She tries to stand in between her sisters and her mother; she remembers how crazy her mother can get. She's the leader.
It's Delphine, Vonetta and Fern, their relationship and interactions, that drive the story. They help each other get through what looks like a horrible situation until it becomes kind of fun. Together they're the Gaither sisters. They finish each others sentences, each knows just how to get under the other two's skin, and though they take sides two against one all the time, they all always stand up for each other in the end.
As the story progresses, the girls' mother becomes more of a real person than the dismissive, nervous woman who picked them up (late) from the airport. We also find out just how much Delphine remembers about her and how much she misses having a mother (even if she won't admit it). The relationship between Delphine and Cecile (their mother) is built on more understanding than either of them want to admit, and watching it unfold was one of the most moving parts of this story.
Overall, One Crazy Summer was a wonderful book and totally deserving of it's numerous awards! It has it all: history, humor, emotion, drama, and annoying but lovable little sisters!
Book source: Philly Free Library
Before I started, based on the cover, the reviews, and the general premise, I was all "Oh, a summer of '68 book. Okay." It's pleasantly not as typical as I was assuming it would be. The girls get sent off to Black Panther day camp, and realize they have to fend for themselves at their mother's house. The writing is great, and the plot is interesting.
There are two things that especially stuck out for me. The first is that the narrator, 11 year old Delphine, is a fantastic portrait of a young person navigating between what she describes as her "good Negro home training" with her father and grandmother, and her mother's community's social justice vision, in an even-handed way that isn't didactic or preachy. I'm not even old enough to have experienced that moment in the civil rights movement (well, in addition to the whole 'not black' thing), and so I imagine it's even more of a foreign concept to actual child readers, and the book is successful in giving you a very vivid sense of how this plays out in Delphine's day to day life.
Second, I enjoyed how the book merged the larger social issues with the more personal story of Delphine's family dynamic. It was a great balance and it didn't feel like either a family story tacked on to a social story, or the other way around.
Grade: A solid A-. I liked it a lot, it's more of a thoughtful book than a big emotional book. I'm not sure why I don't think it's a five star/A+ book -- maybe because there wasn't a moment where it blew me away, but I don't think it's trying to be that kind of book, either.
Recommended: I think this would be a great choice for its targeted age group, and for adults interested in this setting and topic.
Newbery prediction: I can very easily see this on the Honor list.
I have weird issues with the cover.
The story is narrated by Delphine the oldest of the sisters. Dephine is always in charge of every sistuation and protects her two younger sisters. They learn from day one that their mother is not happy to have them invading her personal life and they are restricted from entering the kitchen for anything, even for a glass of water.
The girls spend most of their time alone without the protection of their mother or anyone else.
Others had their choices in mind as well, and in Mock Newbery circles I would hear three words over and over again, the three that make up this book's title. I knew about the book. It sounded interesting, but I was not convinced. I bought it but didn't read it, finding reason after reason to skip it for something else. My biggest reason often boiled down to this: "It can't be that good, can it? I mean, really?" Still, when praise is unrelenting, it is hard not to pay attention, so I broke down. Having read it, I cannot say that the hype surrounding this book was undeserved. That would be a lie. This is definitely an award-worthy book here, and I'm honestly not so surprised about that.
I have read only one other book by Rita Williams-Garcia, and that would be her National Book Award Finalist "Jumped." I did not like "Jumped," but its problems did not lie in the writing so much as characterization. They were strong characters, alright, but they were terribly unpleasant and unlikable. I had strong faith that, given a good idea for a story, that she could churn out a book worthy of great praise. The characterization is strong in "One Crazy Summer." The three sisters are never anything except individual characters, and their every move is completely plausible. Even the least likable character in the book, the initially reprehensible Cecile, proves to be more than just an evil mother, however poorly equipped she may be.
The little description on the inside flap of the jacket describes the book as "heartbreaking," and boy does the book deliver in that aspect. Really, I did not think I would be able to get through this book without crying, once I read the first five or six pages. Though this is not the most despairing middle-grade fiction I've ever read (that honor goes to the great "Somewhere in the Darkness"), it certainly comes close. These kids endure a lot of hardship over the course of the book's 215 pages, and if the ending seems a little too simple, it's still no less of a relief and as well-written as the rest of the book.
I like when historical fiction doesn't shove a thousand facts down your throat, and thankfully this book, with its little-discussed subject matter, avoids such a trap. I felt I knew about as much of what was going on with the Black Panthers as Delphine did, and it made about as much sense to me. Which seems just perfect, to be honest; after all, if you were an eleven-year-old in the middle of a movement like that (or really, any sort of huge, history-making event), you'd be pretty bewildered, wouldn't you? Luckily, the book is anything but hard to follow, mostly because the writing is so descriptive without being TOO descriptive that it's easy to get swept into the story within the first page.
How often do books with levels of hype that reach the stars live up to expectations? Well, I like nearly everything, so maybe you shouldn't be asking me that. But both of this year's HUGE buzz books (this and "The Dreamer") proved to deliver everything I was promised they would. This year has been top-notch for kid's books, and I expect a satisfying harvest of Newberrys come January. If "One Crazy Summer" isn't part of that crop, the committee must be a little crazy themselves.
After arriving, their mom's coldness and indifference to them shows and it stings. I appreciated the author making the mother run away and not the father.
All of the characters seem strikingly real and have unique personalities. But Delphine was my favorite. She's 11 going on 40 because she's had to look after her sisters her whole life. The scene where she finally lets loose and enjoys herself on the go-kart was lovely.
Highly recommended for all!
With an uncaring tone that says she can't be bothered, the mother gives the girls money for food (they're absolutely NOT allowed to go in the kitchen) at the local Chinese restaurant and they're sent to the People's Center for breakfast. It is there that the girls reluctantly (on Delphine's part) and happily (on Vonetta and Fern's part) get involved in classes run by the Black Panther Party, a revolutionary organization that fights for Black Power. Throughout the days of their visit, they become more involved than they realize.
The voices and personalities of the three girls come through the most in this novel. Delphine is extremely strong-willed, and being the oldest, she is always the responsible one. Quiet and reserved, Delphine is not one to make waves. Vonetta is the middle child and the one who wants to be the center of attention. As the baby in the family, Fern is happy in her own little world: singing, dancing, and imagining. Despite the differences among these three, they have a way of finishing each other's sentences in a kind of sing-song manner. The story is set during a momentous time in American History. Martin Luther King, Jr., and Bobby Kennedy are assassinated. Huey Newton (co-founder of Black Panther Party) is still in jail. The Vietnam War is raging, and unrest and radical change predominate. This novel will resonate with you long after you've read the last page.
2010 National Book Award Finalist
2011 Coretta Scott King Award
2011 Newbery Honor Award Winner
Publisher: Amistad (January 2010)
Available as an eBook.
Wow what unfeeling mom Cecil is. Her daughter Delphine is so much more a grown-up than she is and a much better mom to the younger kids than Cecil is. Also such an interesting history lesson into a turbulent time in the US told through the eyes of an 11 year-old-girl. The girls end up being immersed into the Black Panther movement which kind of scares Delphine as she has seen and heard about arrests and murders of people just because they have an affiliation with the group. Of course as the summer goes on the relationship changes but maybe not as you would expect.
There are a few things I wonder about if Cecil didn’t want the girls there why did their father & Big Ma send them? And when certain things happen*No Spoilers* why wasn’t their father notified and the girls sent home? Why was it up to Delphine?
I think this is a must read! Do you hear me Newberry people?? This deserves every award it has won and will win.
On the Audio-The narration by Sisa Aisha Johnson is really great! She Is Delphine through & through! Her narration is totally believable and I see why this narrator has won an audiofile earphone award.
I won this book and would like to Thank Recorded Books for a great audio.
4 ½ stars
It's hard to watch Delphine have to care for her sisters and demand what the girls need from their mother. Celine (Nzila) gets arrested and the girls still fend for themselves.
Eventually some of the mother's backstory is revealed. The story offers an interesting look at 1968 in Oakland.
This story is about many things that children might experience; abandonment issues, being teased, arguing with siblings, and often growing up too fast. This book also reminds us of historical events that actually happened in the United States, and not that long ago. African Americans were required to sit at the back of the bus often expected to give up their sets to a white person. African Americans were a minority and during the sixties the Black Panther Party was formed by Huey Newton and Bobby Seale. There are many references to Huey while Delphine, Vonetta, and Fern are at the People’s Center making signs for rallies. The Black Panthers worked to stop the oppression of black people by speaking up and from Delphine’s viewpoint peacefully demonstrating their rights to be heard. At the time this story is set many influential minority leaders and supporters are assassinated including Martin Luther King and Robert Kennedy as well as a 17 year old, Bobby Hutton, in an attempt to silence and frighten minorities into submission. Did this actually work? Or did this only spark the surge to work even harder for equal rights?
I really enjoyed this book. It's fast-paced and interesting. The characters are complex and authentic.
Although this book has several great themes (Civil Rights, sisterhood, community) and well-rounded strong-willed characters, you can read about them in any number of reviews. As for me, one thing from One Crazy Summer jumped out at me - the mind-opening, positive power of travel. Had Delphine, Vonetta and Fern stayed in their quiet, stable Brooklyn home, they would have been safe and well-cared for, however, they would have missed many experiences (both good and bad) that would likely shape their lives, their attitudes, their opinions, forever. Visiting new places and seeing the world through the eyes of people different from ourselves is a powerful experience. Delphine's wise father recognized that, and the girls had a whole new world opened up to them.
A heavy topic made light by the hearts of three winning sisters, smart and practical Delphine, carefree and adaptable Vonetta, and Fern, small, but determined Highly recommended.