One Crazy Summer by Rita Williams-Garcia won so many accolades and I was left feeling a little left out of the party. I enjoyed the book to be sure, but didn't really understand what all the fuss was about. If the same amount of fuss is made over its sequel, P.S. Be Eleven, I will understand completely
After spending the
summer in Oakland with their mother and the Black Panthers, Delphine,
Vonetta, and Fern arrive home with a newfound streak of independence,
and the sisters aren't the only ones who have changed. Now Pa has a
girlfriend. Uncle Darnell returns from Vietnam a different man. But Big
Ma still expects Delphine to keep her sisters in line. That's much
harder now that Vonetta and Fern refuse to be bossed around. Besides her
sisters, Delphine's got plenty of other things to worry about-like
starting sixth grade, being the tallest girl in her class, and dreading
the upcoming school dance (her first). The one person she confides in is
her mother, Cecile. Through letters, Delphine pours her heart out and
receives some constant advice: to be eleven while she can.
After the summer they experienced in Oakland it is impossible for the Gaither sisters to go back to life as normal. They were changed by their experiences as well as learning how to fit the reality of their mother into their lives. They also return to discover that things are not all the same at home too. Each of the girls reacts to these things in different ways and I found the portrayal of this realistic. The younger two adjust to their new realities easier. This makes sense given their ages. Delphine does not find it so easy. I really feel like this book more than the first is well and truly her story. Fern and Vonetta are still there and important, but this is mostly about Delphine. Delphine adjusting to her new view of Big Ma, her father being love, how she sees her father's opinions, Uncle Darnell returning broken, and the simple every day tragedies of sixth grade.
Garcia brings the world the Gaither girls live in to wonderful life. The setting and time period really shine in this book. She captured it well (as did the cover artist). It is easy to access without needing everything explained. The plot follows Delphine from her return through several months of school as she adjusts to all the changes in her life. It is simple yet beautifully rendered with plenty of action to keep readers engaged. I loved the letters from Cecile. They maintain her character form the first book, but also see her open up a bit.
I feel like this is going to be an easier sell with my students, which I'm eager to test when school starts again. Fortunately it is entirely possible to read it without reading the first book. Hopefully they can fall in love with this and go back to read that.