Genre: Children’s Fiction (Middle Grade), Historical Fiction
Series: Gaither Sisters, book 1
Recommend to Others?: Yes
Favorite Quote: “A name is important. It isn’t something you drop in the litter basket or on the ground. Your name is how 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. Your name is who you are and how you’re known even when you do something great or something dumb.”
Set in 1968 Oakland, California, three sisters spend a crazy summer with their estranged mother.
I’m not sure what to make of this book. The writing and storytelling by Rita Williams-Garcia was so well done, funny, really imaginative and flawless in its execution. It held my attention from start to finish – but after reading it in its entirety I find it, for me, was okay.
It’s very different from any middle grade novel I ever had to read in school that I can remember. I think that largely has to do with the setting and language. I don’t remember how early grade-school kids learn about this part of American history – the racial disparity and struggle to transition to true freedom for all post-Civil War – but it had me wondering if One Crazy Summer is accessible to 9-12 year old. Yes, I think so. A far cry more accessible and easier to take in than To Kill A Mockingbird. Both serve a purpose, demonstrating the good, bad, ugly and harsh reality of those times. But it’s all perception – middle graders are able to handle and interpret for themselves more and more as time goes on. So I can see One Crazy Summer being a part of a school’s curriculum, if it hasn’t already. Certainly, it would provide students with historical education and writing knowledge in more ways than one.
I did enjoy Delphine, Vonetta, and Fern’s characters. I loved their sister dynamic and individual personalities. I loved how Delphine takes it upon herself to look after her younger siblings and learn what she can by watching the news or reading from the Merriam Webster dictionary. If I were in middle grade, I think I would have enjoy this novel more than I do now – I wouldn’t feel so indifferent about it – because of the view of the world and descriptions we get through Delphine’s point of view would greatly appeal to child-me. For instance, Delphine thinks, “Thank goodness you can’t see cherries in a chocolate bar. I’d have been a red-faced rose if not for my Hershey brown complexion” (113). That was my favorite line.
The most moving part of the novel I found to be the chapter, “Everyone Knows the King of the Sea,” where Delphine talks about the importance of names (see above mentioned favorite quote). It was a very wise explanation about names for someone so young. Names have a lot of power and meaning, and Delphine understood that so perfectly.