Friday, January 7, 2011

One Crazy Summer

Rita Williams-Garcia's ONE CRAZY SUMMER is the story of three little girls traveling from Brooklyn to Oakland to spend their summer with the mother that abandoned them years earlier.

Heaps and heaps of critical praise have been piled upon this book but I can't dole it out. I don't know if I can effectively explain why, but I will sure try! Some of the reasons this didn't sit well with me . . .

The voice. The one element of this novel that is praised by many is the one element of this novel that felt insincere to me. Delphine is our narrator, the oldest of the three, and she's taken on the role of caretaker in her mother's absence. The problem is, there is absolutely no reason for her to do so. Delphine and the girls live in Brooklyn with their loving father and their loving grandmother. We know they care for these girls and have taught them well because the girls tell us so throughout the book. They are constantly reminded of some words of wisdom bestowed upon them by either their grandmother or their father. They've been taught well. So why does Delphine feel this added pressure?

I would overlook this if it wasn't a major part of the story. But it is. Cecile, the girls' mother, is a terrible mother. She is not thrilled by the girls' visit and she doesn't want them to be involved in her life. The one thing that Cecile teaches Delphine in the book is to be selfish, take time for herself, and to let go of being so protective of her younger sisters. Delphine learning this from the mother she detests, her selfish mother, is a pretty big moment in the book, given that Delphine has tried very hard to not be like her mother. But it's cheapened by the fact that Delphine's protective instincts are self-imposed for no believable reason. Which leads me to another reason this book fell flat . . .

The message. I have a difficult time finding anything in this book that is uplifting, or positive, for children readers. Maybe that is the point. Families don't always get back together. Sometimes parents suck. If so, I'd love to ask Rita Williams-Garcia why she ended the story so optimistically then. By doing so, her message becomes very conflicting. Is she trying to paint the Black Panthers in a more positive, non-violent light? Is she trying to say it's okay for parents to abandon their children as long as they have the greater good of the people in mind?

By story's end, the girls and Cecile have come to terms with each other . . . but I don't see how. Cecile changed very, very little while the girls stayed with her. Sure she took baby steps in warming up to her daughters, but nothing worthy of their forgiveness or redemption. When the girls forgive her, I found myself scratching my head. I surely wouldn't forgive her! Cecile is selfish and distant. The fact that the reader turns the final page with a hopeful feeling of reprieve, is off-putting to me. I'd have had far more respect for the book if Delphine would not have been fooled and left Oakland as angry as when she arrived!

I honestly don't think I could put this book in the hands of my 5th grade students and hold their interest. I'm sure that many could relate to Delphine, or Fern, or Vonetta, and their situation, but I don't think that alone is enough to propel them through the book. The length of the book is reasonable, but the plot is slow moving, and the title incredibly misleading. The writing is good and for the most part, the author stays out of the story, but historical fiction and mother abandonment have been done so much better before.

My final grade: C+

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