My eyes stung. I was spilling-over mad. I couldn’t stop what I had to say, even if she stood over me and became my crazy mother mountain and knocked me down. I was spilling over.
It is the summer of 1968 and eleven-year-old Delphine and her two younger sisters Vonetta and Fern have been sent from Brooklyn, New York to Oakland, California to spend the summer with a mother they don’t know at all. A mother who abandoned them after Fern was born.
Cecile is still a mother who wants nothing to do with them. She refuses to call Fern by her name, leaves them to get their own meals, and makes it very clear that she wants them out of her hair and home during the day so she can do her work as a poet. And so she immediately sends them off to the Black Panther’s People’s Center. “Can’t miss it. Nothing but black folks in black clothes rapping revolution and a line of hungry black kids.” They are to go for the free breakfast, stay there all day for the program, and just keep out of her way till evening.
Delphine is used to taking care of her sisters and while she is horrified at the thought of spending their days with the Black Panthers she also isn’t totally surprised — the stories Big Ma, her grandmother, has told them about Cecile are right in keeping with this sort of behavior. Clearly Cecile has zero interest in them. Zero. And so the three girls make their way to the Center where they meet Black Panthers, learn about them, and, as the summer goes on, contribute their own part to the movement. And by the end, they have gotten to know their mother, one of the more unique mothers of recent children’s literature.
Rita Williams-Garcia has created unforgettable characters in the three girls and their mother —they are sure to linger in your mind long after you have closed the book. Especially Delphine — she tells their story and she tells it straight. There are big and powerful moments in the book — say a poetry reading at a rally — and small sharp moments as well — say requests by whites to photograph the three girls. Big or small, they feel absolutely real and true to the characters, the times, and the ideals of the times. And finally, there is the writing — spare, poetic, and incredibly moving.
Come January, keep your eyes peeled for Rita Williams-Garcia’s One Crazy Summer. It is a keeper.