Title: One Crazy Summer
Author: Rita Williams-Garcia (link)
Pub Date: January 2010
Synopsis: Eleven-year-old Delphine has it together. Even though her mother, Cecile, abandoned her and her younger sisters, Vonetta and Fern, seven years ago. Even though her father and Big Ma will send them from Brooklyn to Oakland, California, to stay with Cecile for the summer. And even though Delphine will have to take care of her sisters, as usual, and learn the truth about the missing pieces of the past.
First Line: Good thing the plane had seat belts and we'd been strapped in tight before takeoff.
When I first read the premise of this story -- three sisters fly to Oakland in the summer of 1968 to visit their deadbeat mom -- it seemed like an interesting enough historical middle grade, a story that would definitely have heart and humor. But when I realized that the setting would also involve some of the racial politics of the 1960s and the Black Panthers, I was intrigued to see how those important adult storylines would be explored in a middle grade book.
Getting to Know the Black Panthers: Williams-Garcia weaves history into this story in a magical way. Both the setting and characters have such vivid personalities, you become transported to Oakland from a very different time. It won't really matter if kids are familiar with the history of the Panthers, who are introduced from a variety of angles. Through the lens of Delphine, the story's narrator, readers are given a measured and cautious glimpse into this world that isn't so much political as it is personal. But while the setting makes the book dynamic, in the end, it's not the central focus of One Crazy Summer. As the title suggests, the story is about a pretty nutty vacation where three sisters learn about each other and their family dynamic .
Why You'll Love Delphine: As an older sister, Delphine's main concern throughout the story is minding Fern and Vonetta. Even though the siblings have been tossed into a world with no parental supervision and all the Chinese take-out they've ever wanted, this eleven-year-old fights to keep a normal, healthy routine for her family. Her maturity is both heartbreaking and beautiful.