Sunday, October 2, 2011

Newberry Honor 2011: One Crazy Summer

One Crazy Summer is not just a story about politics, racial equality, and estranged parents. It’s about sticking up for yourself, loving people who aren’t nice all the time, and, above all, it’s about loyalty – loyalty to a race, to a cause, to friends, and to family.

The mother/daughter theme is extraordinarily successful, but I don’t think “learning about the black panthers” was a central theme (as Rita claims in the back insert of the book).

Delphine participates in the Black Panther cause for completely non-political reasons. She says,

“It was funny how things changed. If Cecile had been arrested when we first arrived in Oakland, . . . Nothing would have made me happier than to leave Cecile and Oakland back then. But we hadn’t gotten what we came for. We didn’t really know our mother, and I couldn’t leave without knowing who she was.”

This – the desire to know her mother – seems to be Delphine’s motivation for delving into the Black Panther cause. If she can fight for her mother’s cause, she can fight for her mother. Even though she’s worried, knowing her mother is more important than staying home (or calling her Pa for that matter). Because the mother/daughter theme is the primary one, the political theme is rightly allowed to fade into sparse information.

I was also really impressed by character in this book! The fact that the plot was all emotional worked great for me, but I can see what you mean about some kids not getting it.

Cecile’s characterization made so much sense to me. I believed Cecile was selfish enough to tell her child, “Should have gone to Mexico to get rid of you when I had a chance.” I was surprised that she never truly mended her ways, but that’s not a bad thing. Usually, bad parents have a way of redeeming themselves in children’s books in a sappy-sweet nearly magical way. Cecile never redeems her wrong actions, but she does offer Delphine (and the book’s child readers) an opportunity to understand why an adult can be selfish too. Understanding other’s actions is sometimes better for a child than assuming that bad people will always change drastically for the better.

I don’t think the ending is even about Cecile coming to the point that she wants to hug her girls. It’s about the girls hugging her – they finally take charge enough to reach out physically to her. Delphine says, “How do you fly three thousand miles to meet the mother you hadn’t seen since you needed her milk, needed to be picked up, or were four going on five, and not THROW YOUR ARMS AROUNG HER, whether she wanted you to or not.” I loved that Fern, the 6/7 year old, was the one who realized they needed to physically tell Cecile they love her.

There is no confusion or faltering in Rita Williams-Garcia’s book – only beauty and straightforward motion to a satisfying finish. The only thing that concerned me was not finding out exactly why Cecile left in the first place (p.210), but that is a minor detail when so much is done right. I think One Crazy Summer is deserving of the Newberry Honor and perhaps more deserving of the Newberry Award than Moon Over Manifest.

Btw, Delphine will be returning if Rita Williams-Garcia finishes her next project. She says, “I'm also at work on the sequel for One Crazy Summer, titled P.S.: Be Eleven. I just couldn't leave Delphine, Vonetta and Fern alone! In this follow up story, the girls have just landed in New York, their father has an announcement, their Uncle Darnell will return home from Vietnam, and Delphine must face the dreaded sixth grade dance. There’s a whole lot going on!”