Ever since reading Clayton Byrd Goes Underground, I’ve been on a Rita Williams-Garcia kick. I reread Jumped, a YA novel told from multiple accounts, which I loved, and then I reread One Crazy Summer, since this was the book my fourth and fifth graders tackled for our school book club last month. Oh my goodness, how I love this book! There’s just something about Williams-Garcia’s storytelling – the way she shows rather than tells, the way she grounds you so firmly in her settings and makes her characters truly leap off the pages. She is such a brilliant writer, and her work never fails to amaze me. One Crazy Summer is a multiple award winner for a reason.
In One Crazy Summer, eleven year old Delphine and her two younger sisters travel from Brooklyn all the way to Oakland, California, to meet the mother who abandoned them. The year is 1968, and the fight for racial equality is alive and well. Unfortunately for the sisters, their mother, Cecile, is not at all what they had hoped she would be, showing little interest in her children. Instead of engaging with her daughters, the radical Cecile sends them to a daily summer camp run by the Black Panthers while she spends time shut up in her kitchen, working on a mysterious project. Over the course of their month in California, the girls learn about the revolution and do their best to stay far away from their mother. And throughout this time, the sisters learn some startling truths about their mother, their culture, and their country.
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I absolutely love the way this book explores how pivotal moments in our country’s history can shape and mold the every day lives of its citizens — both with respect to their families and friends, their communities at large, and their education. One Crazy Summer is a fascinating exploration of cultural identity and an important political movement that has so many parallels to our current social and political landscape. Williams-Garcia incorporates just enough information to give young readers background on the Black Panthers without bogging them down in heady information. But it is not just the fight of African-Americans to be recognized as respected US citizens that shines here — it is also the fight of these three young girls to be recognized by their mother. Their struggle looms large throughout the story, and it is handled with grace and glorious writing that simply jumps off the page and begs to be reread. Two trunks up for this fabulous and important read for upper elementary students.
Want the book? Get it here! One Crazy Summer, by Rita Williams-Garcia.
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