One Crazy Summer
By Rita Williams-Garcia
Review is based only on texts since there are no illustrations
This book is a little gem. Under what appears to be a simple book, there are multiple layers of culture, history, and identity finely woven with sparks of humor and hope.
The main story revolves around 11 year old Delphine and her two sisters (Vonetta and Fern) who are sent from Brooklyn to California to spend summer with their mom Cecile.
Delphine has taken care of her younger sisters, with meticulous routine, after her mother left the family seven years ago and moved to California. When their father sends them to be with Cecile, they never imagined they’d spend their vacation in a Black Panther summer camp, while barely seeing their mother, who clearly is not thrilled they are there with her.
The ambiance of 1968 is depicted masterfully and with elegance. As for the story, the first descriptions and impressions of Cecile -the abandoning mother- are slowly transfigured. Like fog disappearing from a landscape, little by little the characters evolve and draw clearer images of their times and expectations. No character is trivial in this book. Although the story may look simple, the truth of the matter is that is delightfully elaborated.
From the multicultural point of view, this is a well-thought book of the civil rights years. However, it is much more than that. It is complex and deep. In simple phrases, it manages to paint a tremendously difficult time with enough tenderness to be handled by children, without turning it into a simplistic book.
Latin and Asian characters are also part of the Black Panthers movement. The books shows that revolutions and changes have many faces. Feminism is also present and front row. A remarkable phrase by Cecile to her daughter Delphine summarizes life “It wouldn’t kill you to be selfish, Delphine” (110) Finally, there is also the redemptive power of art and poetry, which seems to be the great passions of Cecile.
Religion is also portrayed in the book in refined ways and tied to identity and self-awareness. “With Cassius Clay you hear the clash of fists […] With Muhammad Ali you see a mighty mountain, greater than Everest, and can’t no one knock down a mountain” (3) This sole phrase is a history class, a snapshot of the difficult years that were the 60s, and most importantly, a powerful message for the African American community. There is pride, strength, and also hope along the whole story. Characters build themselves from their experiences, away from stereotypes, and learn to discover what it is hidden under the obvious.
To conclude, it is important to mention the personal journey that each of the three sisters develop during the story. It is a growing process that ultimately will connect them with their mother. It is resolved at the end, when Fern demonstrates her talents of observation and poetry -same as her mother’s- It is at the end, also, when Cecile finally mentions Fern’s name. Shortly after the reader discovers the real name of Fern, or at least the name her mother wanted for her, Afua. With the same strength by which Cecile changed his name to Nzila, she finally calls her daughter’s name. The recognition of the identity is the ultimate connection. It is the acceptance and recognition of the other.
In all senses, this is a book about identity and respect.
Williams-Garcia, R., & Kapusto, O. (2010). One crazy summer. Amistad.