Friday, January 21, 2011

A Rendezvous with History

Rita Williams-Garcia has many gifts. One of them, which may be hardest to achieve for any writer, is her ability to fill in only the details the narrator (and thus, the reader) needs in order to make sense of her experience. That’s what the author accomplishes through Delphine's narrative in One Crazy Summer.

Big Ma, Delphine’s paternal grandmother, does not embrace change. The Brooklyn household she runs with her son, Delphine’s father, is a traditional home, and those are the values she instills in Delphine and her sisters. So when Delphine and her sisters arrive in Oakland, Calif., and they find themselves immersed in the Black Panthers Summer Camp, they must sift through Big Ma’s beliefs and the values that their mother, Cecile, lives by to figure out what makes sense to them—as readers, we get to go on that journey with them.

The girls’ mother puts on a lot of armor. To survive as an African-American woman on her own, she has to. But Delphine doesn’t understand why that armor shields Cecile from her daughters, too. That’s another journey to understanding that we take with Delphine. There are no easy fixes for Delphine. There were no easy fixes in 1968. What the author does is create an opening to understanding. Cecile gives Delphine as much knowledge and exposure as she can handle and leaves a door open for future revelations. And Rita Williams-Garcia does the same for young readers. Brava!

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