One Crazy Summer is a wonderfully written urban fiction novel about three sisters who travel across the country to stay with a mother they barely know. In the summer of 1968, eleven-year-old Delphine and her younger sisters, Vonetta and Fern, fly from their beloved home in Brooklyn, New York to the strange new world of Oakland, California - the "land of Mickey Mouse, movie stars and all-year sun". Instead the sisters find themselves stuck in the middle of "Black Panthers, police cars and poor black people"! Their mother, Cecile, had abandoned her daughters when they were babies. After being raised by their father and Big Ma on the east coast for all these years, their father suddenly decides it's mama's turn now.
Mother of the Year...NOT!
When Delphine and her sisters get to Oakland, their mama acts like she doesn't care about the girls at all! No smile, no hugs - not even a homecooked meal. All Cecile cares about is her peace, her quiet and her poetry. The first night Cecile (who changed her name to Nzila, which means "the path" in Yoruba) sends the girls out for Chinese take-out at Mean Lady Ming's ("No free egg rolls!"). The next morning she sends them to get a free breakfast at The People's Center run by the Black Panthers...then tells them not to come back until sundown.
Power to the People
Despite the crazy mother role, this book is refreshingly good! Many of the characters sounded like people I have meet. Having daughters myself, I feel the relationship between Delphine, Vonetta and Fern sounds so real, so believable (especially the sister spats!). Even Cecile seems to warm up (just a bit) when she finally opens up and shares her side of the story to Delphine. Author Rita Williams-Garcia brings both sides of the Black Panther movement to life: not just the revolutionary part like Huey Newton and Malcolm X, but the work the organization did to help the community, like distributing free meals and free health screenings. While the story is set during a racially-charged period in black history, it's more about the relationships between family, so I'm sure most readers will be able to relate to the story.