The thing that impressed me most about this book was Delphine’s voice (what a voice!). Delphine had me on the very first page. I loved that we got all her inner dialogue that just told it like she saw it, because when she spoke aloud her thoughts were edited so that she could protect and guide her sisters. She’s a smart girl who is super observant of her environment and even when she didn’t fully understand all the undercurrents I was always confident that she would figure it out (along with a little help from Ms. Merriam Webster of course).
I really liked how race relations were handled in this book. You’ve got black/white, shown by interactions with the white people in the airport/the hippies/the shopkeeper in San Francisco. You’ve got black/asian shown by Mean Lady Ming and Hirohito and his mom. And you’ve got black/black shown by Big Ma’s/Papa’s perspective vs. the Black Panther’s views. It made for a really rich exploration that was both subtle and respectful. And it seemed as though it was very true to the time period that it was set in. That was a very turbulent and exciting time of change and it made for an excellent backdrop.
I loved how Williams-Garcia was able to weave the political into the story. Even though this is a historical fiction, I think it is completely relevant to modern-day kids. So many of the things that Delphine took away from her summer with the Black Panthers are still completely applicable today. Communities are stronger if they organize, the system doesn’t always have everyone’s best interests in mind, you can choose to support businesses that support the community, you should be proud of your heritage, and no one is a second class citizen.
The personal was also handled wonderfully. Delphine’s family is fractured. Her mom left shortly after the youngest of the three sisters was born and even though they are fairly happy well-adjusted girls there is definitely a hole in their lives. I found the way that Celine, their mother, was written to be incredibly interesting. This is no story of a heartwarming reunion where the mother regrets leaving them, which truthfully I was sort of expecting. Instead, when the moment of resolution comes, Delphine gets an understanding of her mother’s circumstances that is different and too much to handle. I liked that it made Delphine mad, that it was obvious to her that she deserved more, while it also helped her to accept her mother and her mother’s limitations. I thought it was powerful.
In short, I loved it. Great pick for our Mock Newbery.
Book Source = Library Copy