Plot summary: Eleven-year-old Delphine lives in Brooklyn with her father, grandmother, and her younger sisters, Vonetta and Fern. Seven years earlier, right after Fern was born, the girls’ mother, Cecile, abandoned them and moved across the country to Oakland. Delphine has some memories of her mother, but they are very vague. In the summer of 1968, the girls’ father decides the time has come for them to visit their mother. The three board a plane for California, unsure of what to expect, especially since their grandmother has described Cecile, a poet, as selfish and more than a little bit crazy. When the sisters arrive, they are greeted very indifferently by their mother. Cecile is wrapped up in her work writing poetry and tells her daughters to stay out of her way. Delphine, who already has experience mothering her sisters, is therefore forced to make sure they are fed and taken care of. Cecile tells the girls they can find food at a local community center operated by the Black Panthers, where they wind up spending much of the summer. With Oakland and the rest of the country in a tumultuous state of social change and war, can the girls hope to establish any kind of relationship with their estranged mother who seems to care only about her poetry?
Review: This touching and often heartbreaking story of three sisters navigating one of the most turbulent times in American history. Almost immediately the reader has an admiration for Delphine and her role in the family. With her mother absent, she has grown far beyond her eleven years to help raise her younger sisters. The different personalities of the sisters are some of the key components throughout the story. Delphine is mature and in control, but still vulnerable. Vonetta has a lot of personality and spunk. Fern is little but imaginative. Many readers, even young ones, will find it hard to stomach the girls’ mother, Cecile. Her abandoning her family and young children and indifference to their arrival in Oakland is difficult. She is definitely a very complex character, but written well enough for tweens to be able to try to sort through and see that she has many layers. Another important component in the story are the historical aspects of the Black Panther Party movement in Oakland. Through the eyes of the sisters, readers will learn about this important group and what they were fighting for. Overall, One Crazy Summer is a wonderfully written and powerful book and will evoke a response from young readers about a time long before they were born.
Genre: Historical Fiction
Reading level: Grades 4-8
Similar titles: N/A
Personal thoughts: I have always had an interest in this period of history, and really enjoyed reading about it from the eyes of a child. It was often difficult to get through as I had very strong negative feelings towards Cecile, but eventually I came to understand all of the characters and their impacts on one another. A very important and relevant book.
Themes: Civil rights, Black Panther Party, 1960s, sisters, mother/daughter relationships, abandonment, African-Americans.
Awards/Reviews: 2011 Coretta Scott King Award Winner, 2011 Newbery Honor Book, 2011 Scott O’Dell Prize for Historical Fiction, 2010 National Book Award Finalist, Junior Library Guild Selection, Texas Library Association Best Book for 2010. Positive reviews from School Library Journal, Booklist, Kirkus Reviews, Horn Book Magazine and Publishers Weekly.
Series Information: N/A
Delphine – Eleven-years-old and lives in Brooklyn with her father, grandmother and two younger sisters. Travels to Oakland for the summer to stay with her mother, Cecile.
Vonetta – Delphine’s younger sister. She is spunky.
Fern – Delphine’s youngest sister. Her mother left right after she was born.
Cecile – A poet who abandoned her family to live in Oakland. She is a complex character, but is initially unkind and disinterested in spending time with her daughters. She is known as Sister Inzilla at the Black Panther run community center.
Annotation: Delphine, Vonetta and Fern are three sisters living in Brooklyn. Their mother abandoned the family when Fern was born, and now, in the summer of 1968, their father is sending them on a plane to Oakland to hopefully establish a relationship with her.