Title: One Crazy Summer
Author: Rita Williams-Garcia
Publisher: Amistad, an imprint of Harper Collins
Location: Oakland, California
POV: First person POV – Delphine Gaither, 11 years of age
Awards won: Newbery Honor Book, Scott O’Dell Award, Coretta Scott King Award, National Book Award Finalist, ALA Notable Book, Parent’s Golden Choice Award, named a best book of the year by several publications and libraries.
My Source: I bought a paperback copy of the book.
This is a NO SPOILERS book review of One Crazy Summer
I have a no-spoilers policy on this blog. I want to preserve the excitement of the reading experience for you.
When adults behave irresponsibly, children must be wise in fending for themselves.
Delphine Gaither – 11 years of age, the main character
Vonetta Gaither – her younger sister
Fern Gaither – the youngest of the three sisters
Miss Patty Cake – Fern’s doll
Pa – he sent them to live with their mother for a month
Big Ma – Pa’s mother, who takes care of the children in NYC
Cecile – their mother, who lives in Oakland, aka: Sister Nzilla
Sister Mukumbu – their teacher at the Black Panther school
Sister Pat – another teacher at the school
Hirohito Woods – a boy at the school who is half Japanese
The Ankton Sisters – Eunice, Beatrice and Janice
Crazy Kelvin – a man who acts strangely and shows up at the school to help out in the classroom
There are other characters – it was a full crew – but these are the main characters.
A few famous Black Panthers are mentioned: Huey Newton, Bobby Seale, and Bobby Hutton
There are other references to sixties culture:
Gwendolyn Brooks …this poem…
Brenda and the Tabulations …this song…
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If you haven’t read One Crazy Summer yet, be assured I have read it and recommend it. I was enticed to read it because I was born in Oakland and lived there later on as an adult. I frequently visited and stayed with my grandparents who for years lived and worked on East 14th Street in Oakland. I wanted to read a children’s novel set in that city – and what a rarity that is! Also, I want to read all the children’s books on the Newbery Medal and Honor Books list. This book was a Newbery Honor book for 2011.
Themes found in One Crazy Summer
I like to state themes in full sentences. I’m not consulting anyone else’s opinion for this – I’m only going by what I got out of reading One Crazy Summer on my own.
1. Some adults can’t be trusted.
2. Appearances can be deceiving.
3. Some mothers are too emotionally damaged to be able to connect appropriately with their children.
4. Regardless of circumstances, children can be wise, resilient and courageous.
Here’s the official One Crazy Summer book trailer from Rita Williams-Garcia’s YouTube account
More books by Rita Williams-Garcia
One Crazy Summer has two sequels: P.S. Be Eleven and Gone Crazy in Alabama. Rita Williams-Garcia writes a lot – and has six other books in print right now (2017) . . . that’s sure to be only the beginning for her writing career.
The first paragraph of One Crazy Summer
Good thing the plane had seat belts and we’d been strapped in tight before takeoff. Without them, that last jolt would have been enough to throw Vonetta into orbit and Fern across the aisle. Still, I anchored myself and my sisters best as I could to brace us for whatever came next. Those clouds weren’t through with us yet and dealt another Cassius Clay-left-and-a-right jab to the body of our Boeing 727.”
Rita Williams-Garcia’s writing style in One Crazy Summer
One of the best things about One Crazy Summer is the dialogue. Rita Williams-Garcia has a talent for letting her characters speak naturally and believably.
The entire novel was a pleasure to read because it flowed smoothly. The chapters each contained a short vignette about the girls’ summer activities. These stories progressed from meeting their unfriendly mother at the Oakland airport, to finally getting Cecile to bend her self-centered rules a little to accommodate them.
Even though we should hope there are no mothers as neglectful as Cecile, she’s a believable character in the context of the crazy sixties, and her own backstory. All the characters in this novel were entirely believable, and most were described in detail so we could really know the kinds of people they were.
The novel is full of historically accurate information about the Black Panthers and sixties culture. These details are skillfully woven into the text of the novel so we don’t get an information dump so much as we get a taste of the times.
My experience of reading One Crazy Summer
I tend to read paperbacks slowly. I often keep them on my bedside table and read only a chapter or two each evening before sleeping. That’s what happened with One Crazy Summer. I enjoyed the characters and writing style, but didn’t feel so attached to the book that I couldn’t put it down. Maybe this is because I’m not a middle-grade aged child. I know this book won numerous awards, and I liked it a lot more than many other Newbery Honor Books I’ve read, but a chapter each night satisfied me and I didn’t feel a need to spend all day reading it in one session.
My main reason for wanting to read One Crazy Summer was to read about Oakland, California in a children’s novel. I was born in Oakland and lived there for a few years when my youngest children were preschoolers. I wanted to hear more about the city. But that wasn’t to be, because Delphine’s mother, Cecile, wasn’t willing to take her children anywhere to explore the East Bay Area environment. Finally Delphine took sight-seeing matters into her own hands, but the tour wasn’t in Oakland.
Though the girls didn’t see most of Oakland, they did have the run of their West Oakland neighborhood. Their mother sent them out alone for Chinese take-out for dinners, and to the Black Panther summer school program for breakfasts and a radical education. I learned a lot more about Black Panthers in this book than I did about Oakland, California.
These days mothers are generally more careful with their children, watching them through all their activities. However I grew up in the sixties and even in my grandparents’ East Oakland neighborhood I was allowed to run around unsupervised while my grandmother worked in her dry-cleaning shop nearby. That probably wouldn’t happen today!
My opinion of One Crazy Summer
My main criticism of the book is that it painted mothers in a bad light because Cecile was so self-absorbed and her daughters got no love from her. This is explained later in the book but we spend the entire novel feeling sad for the three children, especially Delphine, who is cast in the role of substitute mother since Cecile is incompetent in that sphere.
Now, a lot of people probably love this scenario, and may even say it typifies a lot of people, but I think it feeds into the anti-parent belief that children should be taken from their parents and placed in foster homes. Certainly Cecile, as portrayed in the book, is not willing in any way to be an appropriate mother.
I know the book received numerous awards, but I was bothered by this issue, and wished the book had a more upbeat theme that didn’t involve a bad-mom issue, with an 11-year-old girl having to grow up too quickly to be a substitute mother to her younger siblings. Truly, this book pulls on the heartstrings.
About Rita Williams-Garcia
Rita Williams-Garcia is a New York author with nine books in print as of this writing, in 2017. She wrote One Crazy Summer because she grew up in the sixties and thought the world needed a children’s novel to remember the role children played in the Black Panther movement back then.
You can find out more about the author at her website:
Here’s her Wikipedia page.
Rita Williams-Garcia has a Facebook page.
More books by Rita Williams Garcia
She loves to write!
Location Notes for One Crazy Summer
This is the section of Oakland the novel is set in. De Fremery Park is the park dedicated to Bobby Hutton, a teenaged Black Panther who was shot and killed by Oakland police on April 6, 1968. That event happened prior to the visit of the fictional Gaither sisters in One Crazy Summer.
I hope you’ve enjoyed my book review of One Crazy Summer. It is ever-so-popular these days, and is a great way to learn about the political unrest and Black Panther movement of the sixties.