Tuesday, January 25, 2011

One Crazy Summer

by Rita Williams-Garcia
narrated by Sisi Aisha Johnson
Prince Frederick, Md. : Recorded Books, p2010.

One summer in the late sixties, Delphine and her sisters, Vonetta and Fern, fly to Oakland to visit their mother, Cecile, who left them when Fern was just a baby. The girls have grown up in Brooklyn with their grandmother and father raising them, and eleven-year-old Delphine had to grow up fast. Cecile doesn't seem to want them now, either, and sends them to a Black Panthers breakfast and summer school every day to get them out of the house so she can work on her poetry.

If you were following the Mock Newbery Awards before the official announcement of the ALA youth media awards, you've probably heard this title bandied about. A lot of people predicted it would win, so I was not surprised to see it on the Newbery Honor list this year. When I needed an audiobook for my commute and saw it available at work, I snatched it up. I wasn't really sure what to expect. At first I was a little disappointed by the lack of action in the story. The tight focus on Delphine, our first person narrator, and her family made this extremely character-centric. Though 1968-69 was a very intense time, the plot of this story is much more subdued and introspective. The number of historical details expertly laced into the story struck me only after I'd finished the book and started looking in to some of the events and people mentioned. We learn naturally, as Delphine mentions things like her uncle being away, or sorting newspapers. The family interactions, especially between Delphine and her sisters, ring true and were made all the richer by Sisi Aisha Johnson. While I'm not sure it's the type of story that many children would choose on their own (and I'm pretty sure I may not have picked it up without prompting), it would make an excellent read-aloud and discussion starter.

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