One Crazy Summer
Amistad, 2010, 224 pp.
“A name is important. It isn’t something you drop in the litter basket or on the ground. Your name is now people know you. The very mention of your name makes a picture spring to mind, whether it’s a picture of clashing fists or a mighty mountain that can’t be knocked down” (p. 80).
The summer of 1968 was filled with social and political unrest both domestically and abroad for the United States. While Americans were fighting an undeclared war overseas in Vietnam, a war of civil rights was being fought at home. One Crazy Summer by Rita Williams-Garcia provides readers with a glimpse of these issues from the point of view of an eleven-year-old African American girl named Delphine. Delphine and her two younger sisters make the trip from New York to California to visit their estranged mother, Cecile. Upon their arrival, it is clear to the girls that Cecile really wants nothing to do with spending time with them and prompts Delphine to take on the role of caretaker for her two younger sisters while trying to show some deference to her biological mother. Though Cecile sends the girls to a “camp” each day and decides not to converse with them or provide for their meals, Delphine and her sisters begin to see that their mother is perhaps protecting them from her own involvement in actions of the Black Panther movement of the time.
While the girls struggle with personal relationships with their mother during this summer, they are exposed to many new people and ideas about their own lives while attending the camp. The camp, as it turns out, is run by the Black Panthers and designed to indoctrinate its students in the group’s revolutionary beliefs. It is here that the sisters’ eyes are opened to some of the social upheaval that takes place during that year. Delphine’s vivid reflection on her own role in these events allows the reader to view the Civil Rights Movement and Vietnam War through the naive perspective of a child.
During their visit the girls are taken aback by their mothers’ initial coldness toward her own daughters as well as the fervor of racial tensions and rebellious murmurs among the people they encounter in this part of the country. Williams-Garcia focuses on the importance of the meaning of names to tell this story of realizing one’s personal and cultural identity. This novel can be used in the classroom to teach students about the struggle to understand one’s role in society within the context of our country’s own struggle to come to terms with its multi-faceted nature.
This book could be used in conjunction with other multi-cultural, self-actualization novels such as, When You Reach Me by Rebecca Stead (2010) and American Chica by Maria Arana (2001). Like these recommendations, One Crazy Summer takes an authentic look at cultural diversity through the eyes of a girl who is unknowingly a part of the cultural discord that surrounds her.
Rita Williams-Garcia grew up in Queens, New York, where she was exposed to some of the civil rights events of the 1960s. She began writing at an early age, attended Hofstra University and published her first book, Blue Tights, in the 1980s. One Crazy Summer has earned five awards, including the Newbery Honor Award (2011) and Coretta Scott King Award (2011). Follow this link to more information about the author.
Carrie Orr, University of Cincinnati