Wednesday, February 17, 2010

One Crazy Summer by Rita Williams-Garcia

Delphine is sent along with her two younger sisters, Fern and Vonetta, to Oakland in 1968 to visit their estranged mother for 28 days. Pa has been a loving parent to them, but feels it is time they get to know their mother Celeste. Big Ma (their father’s mother) has always told Delphine Celeste “lives on the street,” and Delphine doesn’t know what to expect as they fly toward “a boiling pot of trouble.” They soon learn that their mother is not a warm person - not the mommy type that gets you a glass of cool water for your bedside. She is a poet, and shares her printing press (somewhat grudgingly) with the Black Panthers to print a newsletter. The girls end up at a summer camp run by the Black Panther party, and each girl begins to see the world, themselves, and their mother, in a slightly different light.

The voice of the main character is very strong and clear. When she uses a metaphor, it is always something from her experience, making it more powerful and believable. For example: “like Big Ma throwing a pinch of salt into the cake batter.” (46) And “Cecile knew she had us baffled and took control of the talk like she had grabbed both the ball and the jacks.” (78)

Sometimes the writing is brutal and honest:

We made a picture. Us looking up at her and her looking down at us. In the animal kingdom the mother bird brings back all she’s gathered for the day and drops it into the open mouths of each bird squawking to be fed. Cecile looked at us like it didn’t occur to her that we would be hungry and that she’d have to do what mothers do: feed their young. (30)

And at other times beautiful, terse, and transparent:

Mother is a statement of fact. Cecile Johnson gave birth to us. We came out of Cecile Johnson. In the animal kingdom that makes her out mother. Every mammal on the planet has a mother, dead or alive. Ran off or stayed put. Cecile Johnson-mammal birth giver, alive, an abandoner-is our mother. A statement of fact. (14)

The theme of “we knew the same things” – whether it’s the outrageous things that happened to the people of color in Oakland, or just sharing the role of being a big sister – runs throughout the novel, linking the families together. (178; 139)

This is one to know about. We should have it in our (APL) collection soon.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

You did good