Monday, July 12, 2010

A Different Kind of Sixties Summer

Dalphine is used to doing things that are hard–-like being a mother to her little sisters. She’s peacemaker, caretaker, and chief worrier. Her story will pull at your heartstrings.

ONE CRAZY SUMMER by Rita Williams-Garcia, Amistad, 2010.

Delphine wants to understand three things:
Why did her mother leave? (Delphine was four.)
Why did she stay away? (Delphine's little sisters don't remember her at all.)
Why didn’t she want her little girls? (All three girls wonder about this.)

Finally, in the summer of 1968, Delphine, now eleven, gets her chance to ask. Her father and his mother, who have raised Delphine and her younger sisters, send all three girls from Brooklyn to visit their mother in Oakland, CA. They soon discover that their mother has no idea what a mother should be, and she certainly can’t be the mother they want her to be, nor does this perfect stranger have any interest in being that mother.

A revolutionary poet, their mother sends the children to a Black Panthers’ summer camp, the only place that will feed them breakfast and lunch. She keeps saying, hurtfully, in words or actions, “Didn’t ask no one to send you here, no way.”

The girls are not allowed in the kitchen at their mother’s house, but Delphine realizes her sisters need a home cooked meal, something like their grandmother would feed them at home. Delphine goes to the grocery, buys food, and then stands up to her mother and gets admitted to the kitchen–which doubles as a work area for printing protest materials. She cooks and cleans up after supper.

This brings on a comment from her distant biological mother. “We’re trying to break yokes. You’re trying to make one for yourself. If you knew what I know, seen what I’ve seen, you wouldn’t be so quick to pull the plow.”

This is a clue to her mother’s life, but it isn’t understood until much later. You might want to read this book a second time to put the pieces of the puzzle together. If your ten or eleven year old reads this middle grade novel, you’ll get questions. Better be prepared.

The author has won numerous awards including the Coretta Scott King Honor for Like Sisters on the Homefront. Her website is www.ritawg.com She is on the faculty of the Vermont College of Fine Arts in the Writing for Children and Young Adults Program. Her own two daughters are grown.

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