Williams-Garcia, R. (2012). One Crazy Summer. New York, NY: Amistad, an imprint of HarperCollins.
Three young girls travel across the country to meet the mother they haven’t seen since they were babies. Expecting a summer of fun in California, an emotional reconnection with family, and something to write about for summer essays when school resumes, they are sorely disappointed by their mother, her life, and their routine in Oakland. They spend the summer in a day camp run by Black Panthers learning all about their cause.
The first thing that struck me as a reader was the main character’s innocence of not noticing injustices facing them. This seemingly minor detail puts into perspective how normal these things were during this time period (and, in some cases, are today). For example, she notes that they must take a cab to a bus stop, take a bus, and then walk from the second bus stop to their mother’s home in Oakland. She doesn’t seem to realize why they must take so many steps, not realizing that the cab won’t go to Oakland. Not only is this historically accurate, but it puts the reader (no matter their age) directly into the innocence of youth. We are confused at these apparent mysteries, irritated when we hear things like, “I’ll tell you when you’re grown,” and we feel that innocence, that desire to see the world as if everyone could get along, even when we are confronted with evidence to the contrary as we are when the Black Panthers have harsh words for the white volunteers who bring food.
Throughout the story, we see the use of poetry. Not only does this contribute to the normal childhood experience of the story, it allows a deeper and more nuanced addition to the story. We see the characters reciting childhood rhymes, learning poems from their mother, and writing their own poetry. This artistic expression is a thread that runs throughout the story giving it more depth as they struggle to express their own truth, what they see every day in terms of racial injustice and their relationship with their mother. Both of these issues are, in and of themselves, a struggle for freedom. These poems add a new layer to our relationship with the characters and to the story as a whole.
From Booklist: “Regimented, responsible, strong-willed Delphine narrates in an unforgettable voice, but each of the sisters emerges as a distinct, memorable character, whose hard-won, tenuous connections with their mother build to an aching, triumphant conclusion.”
From School Library Journal: “Emotionally challenging and beautifully written, this book immerses readers in a time and place and raises difficult questions of cultural and ethnic identity and personal responsibility. With memorable characters (all three girls have engaging, strong voices) and a powerful story, this is a book well worth reading and rereading.”
From Publishers Weekly: “Delphine’s growing awareness of injustice on a personal and universal level is smoothly woven into the story in poetic language that will stimulate and move readers.”
-Pair with other books about the civil rights movement:
Glory Be by Augustus Scattergood
Rosa Parks: Not Giving In by James Collins
Ten Miles Past Normal by Frances O’Roark Dowell
The Watsons Go to Birmingham by Christopher Paul Curtis
-Pair with other books by Williams-Garcia
P.S. Be Eleven
Gone Crazy in Alabama
Like Sisters on the Homefront