Allison's Book Bag

One Crazy Summer by Rita Williams-Garcia

Posted on: July 29, 2015

In honor of Allison’s Book Bag being five years old this year, I’m taking this week to repost my most popular reviews over the past five years. From 2012, there is….

Most fiction I read tends to be about white middle-class experiences. I also most often pick novels which depict my own experiences or are obviously so fantastical that they serve as purely escapist literature. If a book fits neither of these categories, chances are you will find me instead in the nonfiction section. One Crazy Summer by Rita Williams-Garcia is different from my typical read. It is the fictional experience of three sisters during the 1960’s African-American revolution.

In certain ways, One Crazy Summer is about experiences which anyone can have. For example, Delphine and her sister struggle with abandonment issues, because their mom left them years ago to their father’s care. As for our heroine, Delphine, she serves as a protector to her young sisters. Being the oldest naturally led to her also being the most responsible. She knows how to act quiet, say the right words to avoid danger, as well as to stay clean, cook, and shop for household items including groceries. Despite her maturity, she is only eleven. As such, she fears standing up to their mother whom they visit for four weeks. She also at times squabbles with her sisters, punches boys who tease her, and displays attitude towards prejudice shown her due to her sex, age, or color.

In other ways, One Crazy Summer is about one particular time, place, and situation. The time is 1968. The place is Oakland, California. And the situation (according to the book flap) is “one of the most tumultuous years in recent American history”. In the form of story, rather than through newspapers, biographies, or documentaries, One Crazy Summer educates us about the past. We learn about the Black Panther Party. We also learn about some real and fictional arrests, rallies, advertising, and revolution that occurred during the time period of the book. Finally, we learn about how children like Delphine and her sisters (who are eleven and younger) might have viewed, been effected by, or even helped bring about radical change.

In one touching and cute chapter, Dephine presents her case to her mother for buying a television. While we wait for a verdict, Delpine recalls how the sisters like to count all the shows with black characters, how many lines they were given, and even the number of commercials with black actors. In another heavier and more disturbing chapter, we are introduced to the first member of the Black Panthers. The police surprised the Black Panthers who fled inside a house for shelter. Little Bobby surrendered by taking off all his clothes except underwear to show he didn’t have a gun. The police still shot and killed him. The news made Delphine angry but also afraid to protest. She now faces a choice about whether to retreat to the safety of her mother’s home or to participate in a rally which holds potential for real danger.

The Golden Gate Bridge and San Francisco, CA a...

Image via Wikipedia

As I noted earlier, this book is about experiences many of us share. On the lighter side, most of us have taken airplane trips, been teased about some cherished possession, stuck up for our siblings or friends, and felt attracted to the opposite sex. In one particularly fun chapter, the sisters travel by themselves on a bus to San Francisco. They see hippies, visit Chinatown, explore Fisherman’s Wharf, and marvel at the Golden Gate Bridge. Yet this book is also about situations that not everyone experiences. Consider that twice during their trip, white people attempt to take pictures of the sisters as if they were zoo exhibits and not human beings. One Crazy Summer has strong characters, attitude and humor, which all help create an enjoyable read. It also however reveals tough truths about racism, which make it an important read.

In a recent trip to my library, I not only picked up lists of classics and genre books, but also books set in other places and about other cultures or dealing with tough topics and life changes.  Hopefully, my reading experiences will continue to diversify over the upcoming months. For, after all, books should take us beyond our own experiences too.

My rating? Bag it: Carry it with you. Make it a top priority to read.

How would you rate this book?

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