One Crazy Summer by Rita Williams-Garcia
In the summer of 1968, after travelling from Brooklyn to Oakland, California, to spend a month with the mother they barely know, eleven-year-old Delphine and her two younger sisters arrive to a cold welcome as they discover that their mother, a dedicated poet and printer, is resentful of the intrusion of their visit and wants them to attend a nearby Black Panther summer camp.
I wanted to love this book. Truly, I did. But it just didn’t click for me.
For one thing, the main character, Delphine, read more like a young adult protagonist than middle-grade. One of the amazing things about middle-grade fiction is how flawed the characters always are, and watching them grow up and learn from their mistakes. But Delphine already has everything figured out. She’s responsible to a fault, understands the world around her, and is able to successfully navigate some very grown-up situations. You don’t ever see her mess up. She goes through emotional ups and downs, of course, but her maturity made her read nineteen, not twelve.
For another, I’m really uncomfortable with the hard left turn Delphine’s character made in regards to the Black Panthers. One minute she is having interesting, complex thoughts about how they want what is right but she can’t put her sisters in danger like that. The next minute she’s all-in. You see so much of her thought process as she is wary of the Panthers, but none that describes her change of heart. If anything, this book read as a warning about how easy it is to brainwash children to me. Because that’s how Delphine came across: brainwashed.
The historical element was on point. Hats off to Williams-Garcia for writing a really authentic piece of history. I especially loved the nuance with which she explored racial identity. It was so interesting to read about Delphine’s awareness that in public she represents all black people, so she’d better not make a scene. At least, that’s how she’s been raised. In addition, Delphine and her sisters have never really known anyone who was Asian, so they have predictable stereotypes when they meet a Japanese boy.
I also loved the sister relationships in this book. They were complicated and messy, but ultimately, they were there for each other, and the understood one another in a way that nobody else could.
This was a YA book masquerading as a middle-grade book, in my opinion, but for teens interested in modern history it would be well worth the read.