A huge fan of Rita Willliams-Garcia’s One Crazy Summer, I was incredibly happy when it got a great deal of award-love and recognition. I mean, who could not be taken with those three sisters going off to spend the summer in California with the Black Panther mother they never knew? And who could not want to know what happened to them when they went home to Brooklyn?
Happily, we find out in the sequel, P.S. Be Eleven. Taking off immediately after the girls return from California, their life in late 60s Brooklyn is all about changes. Delphine is starting sixth grade with a teacher she wasn’t expecting, Vonetta and Fern are becoming more independent, their beloved uncle Darnell is back from Vietnam and not doing well at all, Pa has a new girlfriend, and Big Ma is struggling with all of it.
And Delphine is struggling too– to make sense of her world, her family, her friends, and herself as she moves through this pivotal year. Her mother Cecile is on the other side of the continent, but her letters consistently and repeatedly remind Delphine to be eleven, to not grow up too soon, to be herself.
As in the first book, time and place are vividly evoked. I was particularly moved by the girls’ adoration of the Jackson Five, their efforts to make it to a concert…and what happened about that. And Williams-Garcia does the small epiphanies of youth with exquisite perfection. Say Delphine learning the hard truth about her beloved dictionary, the tiny rare moments alone with her father, her growing awareness of the painful aspects of the lives of the adults around her, aspects completely unrelated to her or her two sisters.
This won’t matter to young readers, but boy did reading this make me feel old! I was certain The Archie’s “Sugar Sugar” was older than the time of this book as I recalled having to listen to it ad nauseam during Driver’s Ed. But indeed I did that in 1969 and that was the year of that bubblegum hit. So I was older than Delphine in 1969.
But never mind about that — all that matters is that young readers today are going to delight when they re-encounter Delphine and cheer as she ponders difficult things around her, learns, enjoys, and is, as her mother urges, (even after she turns twelve): eleven.