Delphine may be only 11, but she’s already figured out a lot about her family. She knows Big Ma has no forgiveness in her heart for Cecile, the mother who deserted Delphine and her sisters. She also suspects Pa has his reasons for sending his three girls across the country on an airplane to spend the summer with a mother they hardly know.
So off they go – Delphine, Vonetta, and Fern – from Brooklyn to Oakland in the summer of 1968 in Rita Williams-Garcia’s wonderful new novel One Crazy Summer (Amistad, 224 pp,, $15.99).But instead of finding the mother they had hoped for, they arrive in California to discover Cecile is a poet who lets her “long-gone daughters travel nearly 3,000 miles without turning on the stove” for them. She shoos them out of the house for Chinese take-out, forbids them to enter her kitchen, and enrolls them in a Black Panther day camp.
Shocked that their own mother would send them off to strangers on the very first morning of their visit, Delphine reluctantly walks her sisters to the People’s Center, knowing it’s the only place they’ll get breakfast.
Once there, they stay. And eventually they realize it may be the best decision their mother has ever made.
Delphine is nothing if not resourceful. She negotiates the tricky waters of new friendships and new places, making everything work, whether it’s buckling three seat belts on a 727 headed across country or fixing her sister’s favorite doll.
Smart, sensible, outspoken, Delphine is one of the most appealing characters to make herself known in a middle-grade novel. She’s also an anchor for her siblings, no matter how hard the younger girls make that task.
Rita Williams-Garcia has chosen a remarkable time – as well as a particular place and situation – not often written about in books for young readers. Told with perfect child-friendly details (black-and-white TVs, President Kennedy, Mighty Mouse, Cassius Clay vs. Muhammad Ali), “One Crazy Summer” is both funny and poignant. The political back story is seamlessly woven into the plot, but the real story belongs to Delphine and her sisters.
This is the kind of family you’ll want to know more about. Rumor has it another novel featuring these endearing characters is in the works. Let’s hope so, since this one’s got prize-winner written all over it.
Augusta Scattergood frequently reviews children’s books for the Monitor.