Thoughts: One Crazy Summer

gaither sisters

One Crazy Summer is the first book in a middle-grade trilogy about three Black sisters growing up during the 1960s/70s. In the (crazy) summer of 1968, Delphine, Vonetta and Fern are sent by their father to Oakland, California to visit their mother Cecile, who left them years ago. Instead of spending time with her estranged daughters, Cecile sends them to the Black Panther People’s Center for some real education (and perhaps some convenient babysitting) and holes herself up in her kitchen.

You can see how Williams-Garcia sets the stage here not only for some much-needed Black historical fiction, but also an exploration of the meaning of family, of love and abandonment and growth. The book shines with outstanding characters against the backdrop of the Civil Rights movement, but the tone is never preachy and the social commentary handled subtly.

Eleven going on twelve Delphine narrates this story, and she is a mature and strong young girl with too much responsibility as she tries to take on the role of mother to her younger sisters. Through Delphine we hear Big Ma’s opinion on those militants in berets she sees on tv who are just making trouble, Delphine being told to be a good girl because she presents the entire Black community; we see her learning about the community support system set up by the Black Panthers. There’s a lot of learning and growing done by the girls in Oakland.

Another aspect I loved was the mother-daughter relationship between Cecile and Delphine wo, unlike her sisters, still has memories of her mother.The author handles this relationship so well, this is not about making Cecile a villain or a corny happy end, but instead Delphine learns of her mother’s identity as a person outside of being a mother. Cecile who is now Sister Nzilla turns out to be a poetess of the revolution. It is clear that she does not want to be a mother and does not want to sacrifice her identity for this role. Her behavior and carelessness will shock many, but I appreciate that we learn a bit about her marriage and her reasons for leaving. While Nzilla tells her daughter to enjoy being a kid, it is clear that Delphine felt she had to sacrifice being a child. Perhaps this is a lesson in selfishness that Delphine can learn from. Williams-Garcia makes it possible for readers to feel compassion for Nzilla, for all that she is a terrible mother.

And the younger sisters come to life as well: Vonetta with her desire for being seen and heard, practicing for the stage and then getting stage freight. But also caught between wanting to make friends and being loyal to her sisters. And little Fern who is made fun of for carrying a white doll around with her everywhere and never getting her mother to use her real name. But oh, little Fern gets her moment toward the end of the book and it is utterly amazing!

For the weighty subjects covered, One Crazy Summer is a fun and quick read and I wasn’t quite ready to let go of the Gaither sisters. Luckily there are two sequels that I immediately put on my tbr after finishing the book. I’m glad I found a new-to-me author who has also quite the backlist for me to explore. And it looks like I need to explore more middle-grade literature, not that I’m especially biased towards it, but it was just rarely on my radar!

Other thoughts:

Ana @ Things Mean A Lot

Lady Business

Reading in Color

Rhapsody in Books

The Englishist

Have you reviewed this book? Let me know and I’ll add a link!

(Why) Should we read middle-grade fiction? Tell me in the comments!

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21 thoughts on “Thoughts: One Crazy Summer

  1. You said middle grade fiction isn’t usually in your radar (same for me), so I’m interested to hear what drew you to this book.
    It does sound excellent, though. I like the complex depiction of the mother as having an identity outside motherhood – which I assume is uncommon in middle grade novels, though I may be wrong.

    1. I was reading Coffee Makes You Black.and this one popped up as a recommendation 🙂 I really like sibling relationships and also was recently talking with my mom who is a teacher about inclusive lit for her kids (6-10/11 yrs). And since the book had great review I thought I’d give it a try and so happy I did. Will have to look for German books like this one, though I feel Germany is so behind.
      I can’t say if it’s unusual in.middle grade lit but I have the impression presenting a mother character who does not embrace her role is still not written often enough and with the necessary complexity. Probably lots of ppl will complain Cecile is super horrible but.I really do appreciate the way she is written. Hope you’ll enjoy this one!

      1. I’m glad you gave it a try to!

        I would love if you reviewed a German book…but in English! Hah, that must be hard. But it could be a simple book that you could get through quickly. I’d love to read your thoughts in translation! ahah. Or you could just share your thoughts on an originally German book that was then translated to English. Anyway, I was just struck by the idea and how cool it would be. 😛

        1. Ugh wrong button. What I meant: I have reviewed one or two German books I think. Must check if I have a German tag.

          1. Haha, sorry I was so confusing. But yeah, my intent was to say that you should read a book that was written in German and then review it in English! What a silly idea lol. Please ignore me. 🙂

  2. So I’ve not read this because I do tend to steer clear of middle grade fiction (no good reason! just how it happens!), but yeah, I’ve heard enough good things that I’m still planning to read it at some point. And the sequels. I thought it’d be nice to get all three from the library and read them all three in a row.

    1. Yeah me too, not on purpose but somehow I rarely read middle grade lit. That’s a great plan! Hope you’ll enjoy the Gaither sisters, I’m definitely planning on following their other adventures 🙂

  3. I just watched the documentary Black Panther Party: Vanguard of the Revolution, and party members who were interviewed talked about abandoning their families for the safety of their families. They would love in communes instead. Great film!

    1. Thanks for stopping by! Oooh I’ve been hearing about that one on my fb feed! Good to hear it really is as awesome! 🙂 Will have to check how/where I can stream it.

  4. Wonderful review, Bina! Thanks for introducing a new-to-me writer. I love the character of Cecile from your description – she looks imperfect, awesome, flawed, complex. So nice to know that the book has two more sequels. Hope you enjoy reading them too. I will look forward to hearing your thoughts on them. Happy reading 🙂

    1. Thanks, Vishy! I really think.you’ll like these books and Cecile is a great flawed character. I love that it’s a.series and.will definitely.read the other books 🙂

    1. Yes Nzilla is.awesome! :)’This is really fantastic children’s lit and I’m glad.I’m glad decided to give it a try. Will have to read her other books.

    1. I remember you gushing about it 🙂 Can’t wait to see how the girls develop in the sequels. Nzilla is such a fascinating character!

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