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My Books

One Crazy Summer (2010)

Jumped (2009)

No Laughter Here (2004)

Every Time a Rainbow Dies (2001)

Catching the Wild Waiyuuzee (2000)

Like Sisters on the Homefront (1995)

Fast Talk on a Slow Track (1991)

Blue Tights (1987)

Other Works and Short Stories

One Crazy Summer

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2011 Coretta Scott King Award Winner
2011 Newbery Honor Book
2011 Scott O’Dell Prize for Historical Fiction
2010 National Book Award Finalist

Visit the One Crazy Summer page for reviews by
The New York Times
The Washington Post
School Library Journal
Book Illuminations


National Book Award 2009 Finalist

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Audiobook available at RecordedBooks.Com

Read the Chicago Tribune Review

Read an interview with Rita about Jumped at Cynsations

Booklist Youth Editors’ Choice

Booklist starred review by Daniel Kraus, Feb. 1, 2009:

Leticia, a gossipy high-school student, knows that “Girl fights are ugly. Girl fights are personal.” She says this after overhearing that Dominique, the tough-as-nails basketball player, is planning to beat up pink-clad fashion-plate Trina at 2:45. The infraction was minor—the oblivious Trina cut off Dominique in the hallway—but for Dominique it was the last of a series of insults, the worst of which was being benched by Coach for failing to improve her grades. Bouncing between the three first-person accounts within the span of a single school day, Williams-Garcia makes the drama feel not only immediate but suffocatingly tense, as each tick of the clock speeds the three girls toward collision. Dominique’s anger and frustration is tangible; Leticia’s hemming over whether or not to get involved feels frighteningly authentic; and only Trina’s relentless snobbery seems a bit simplified. Most impressive is how the use of voice allows readers to fully experience the complicated politics of high school; you can sense the thousand mini-dramas percolating within each crowded classroom. Along the way. The characters’ disregard of such high-school stalwarts as A Separate Peace and Of Mice and Men subtly prepares the reader for the messy and gut-wrenching conclusion.”

Publishers Weekly starred review – Alternating among the perspectives of three girls at an urban high school, Williams-Garcia (Like Sisters on the Homefront) shows once again her uncanny ability to project unique voices. Benched by the basketball coach for her low grades, Dominique is trying to bite back her rage when “some stupid little flit comes skipping down B corridor like the Easter Bunny…. Skipping. In all that pink” and walks between Dominique and her “girls,” “like she don’t see I’m here and all the space around me is mines.” That’s it—Dominique vows to “kick her ass” at exactly 2:45. Her intended victim, Trina—already full of herself over her looks, and pumped up because she’s about to hang her latest masterpiece of art in a hallway)—does not hear, but Leticia does, and she can’t wait to tell her best friend (“That would be something to see…. Trina getting stomped on school grounds”). And when Leticia’s friend argues that Leticia ought to warn Trina, the plot quickens rather than taking a simple path around should-she/shouldn’t-she. So well observed that the characters seem to leap off the page, the novel leaves a strong and lingering impact. Ages 12–up. (Mar.)

From School Library Journal: Grade 8–10—All Leticia wants to do is to mind her own business. She’s too busy stewing about being assigned to early-morning math tutoring to worry about anyone else’s problems. Sure, she’s intrigued when she overhears bad-girl basketball player Dominique threaten to beat up bubbly, self-obsessed Trina for bumping her in the hallway—who wouldn’t be excited to get the inside scoop on juicy gossip like a girl-on-girl fight after school? But she doesn’t feel the need to get involved, even after she realizes that Trina didn’t hear Dominique’s threats and thus has no idea that she’s going to get jumped. Will she follow best friend Bea’s advice and warn Trina of the danger she faces, before a potential tragedy can unfold? In alternating chapters narrated by Leticia, Trina, and Dominique, Williams-Garcia has given her characters strong, individual voices that ring true to teenage speech, and she lets them make their choices without judgment or moralizing. Even the hostile, defensive Dominique is drawn in an evenhanded way that leaves this thought-provoking tale without a clear-cut villain. Teens will relate to Leticia’s dilemma even as they may criticize her motives, and the ethical decision she faces will get readers thinking about the larger issues surrounding community, personal responsibility, and the concept of “snitching.”—Meredith Robbins, Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis High School, New York City

Feb 15, 2009, Kirkus Review:  It’s more than just three high-school girls—self-centered Leticia, skipping the last few minutes of her before-school, repeat Geometry class; angry Dominique, begging her teacher for five more points so she can play in the next basketball game; and overconfident Trina, hanging her Black History Month artwork in the corridor gallery—in the wrong place at the wrong time. When Trina cuts in front of Dominique and her girls, Dominique threatens, “I’m gonna kick that ass at two forty-five,” and Leticia witnesses it all. Short, nuanced, alternating first-person chapters reveal the truth behind each girl’s motivations throughout the day and challenge readers to ponder the culpability of each teen when Dominique carries out her threat and Leticia refuses to intervene. References to A Separate Peace and other literary and historical allusions help fuel the riveting debate. With a realistic look at girl-on-girl violence and gripping characterization, Williams-Garcia masterfully builds tension to the momentous ending. Although readers can anticipate the tragedy that transpires, it is shocking and agonizing nonetheless. (Fiction. YA)

Check out the trailer to Jumped, Rita’s latest book on shelves now!


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2004-BOOKLIST’s Top 10 Black History Titles for Youth
Kirkus Reviews for 11/15/03 issue

This exquisitely written short novel tackles an enormous and sensitive subject. Ten-year-old Akilah waits for her friend Victoria to return to Queens from a summer trip to Victoria’s birthplace, Nigeria. But when Victoria returns, she’s different. She won’t leave her house or even say hello. Eventually she returns to school but gives only one-word answers; she seems wilted and stunned. Where is her laughter, her sharp wit, her academic sparkle? Akilah stays confused until Victoria finally talks: in complete ignorance, she was taken by her family to Nigeria specifically to undergo female genital mutilation. As Akilah, sickened, begins to comprehend, so does the reader. Williams-Garcia pulls no punches: the operation’s consquences are clearly explained, not gratuitously but for truth. Eye-opening and grounded solidly in the present, this piece has absolutely non-generic characters and allows a shocking subject various points of vew (all black) without sacrificing a moral compass. Unapologetic, fresh, and painful. (authors note [included]) (Fiction. 10-16).

ALA Booklist for 12/1/03 issue

Gr4-8. Akilah can’t wait to start fifth grade with her best friend, Victoria, who has been in Nigeria for the summer. But Victoria returns completely changed: withdrawn, physically unwell, and unable to laugh. A fifth-grade puberty film gives Victoria the words to tell Akilah what has happened to her: “I don’t have what other girls have.”

Victoria has survived female circumcision, and Akilah is furious but sword to secrecy, until her warn, supportive parents discover the truth and expose Victoria’s family secret. Of the several recent novels about FGM (female genital mutilation), including Pat Collins’ The Fattening Hut [BKL N 1 2003], for older readers, Williams-Garcia’s story, written in Akilah’s colloquial African American voice, is most successful. It combines a richly layered story with accurate, culturally specific information in language that’s on-target for the audience, and the author tempers what could have been strident messages with interesting contrasts; Akilah’s aunt, who beats her children, raises questions about the forms of brutality ingrained in many families. Then there’s Akilah herself, simultaneously confronted with her first menstrual period and the gravity of what has happened to her friend: “Being a ten-year-old woman sucked raw eggs.” Young people will have plenty of questions for adults after reading this skillfully told, powerful story. – Gillian Enberg.


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2003 Silver Kiss (Bologna Children’s Bookfair)
2003-4 Kentucky Blue Grass List
2003-4 Tennessee Volunteer State Book Award Master List
2002-3 Texas Library Assoc. YA Roundtable List
2002 ALA Best Books
2002 ALA Top 10 Best Books for Young Adults
2002 Children’s Literature Choice List
2002 New York Public Library Book for the Teen Age

Publishers Weekly. January 8, 2001 Issue

Williams-Garcia (Like Sisters on the Homefront) paints a remarkably sympathetic portrait of 16-year-old Thulani, who Rainbow Jacketcame to Brooklyn from Jamaica with his mother and brother. As the novel opens, he is tending his beloved rock doves on the roof of his townhouse when he witnesses a rape. After he helps the young woman home, he cannot stop thinking of her; the author honestly conveys the mix of emotions the hero feels (sorrow, titilation, compassion, anger). Revisiting the scene of her assualt, he discovers a rainbow-colored skirt that he knows must be hers, which he keeps and mounts on his bedroom wall.

He follows her around until he works up the courage to talk with her, learns her name – Ysa – then falls in love with her. Through their budding relationship and her passion for life and studies (textile design), Thulani works up the courage to accomplish his own goals, to break through his brooding silence and to accept his mother’s death. Through Ysa’s willingness to trust Thulani, she helps him to live with uncertainty and sadness. The rape and, later, a lovemaking scene between Ysa and Thulani, are explicitly drawn, yet the manner in which Williams-Garcia contrasts the violence of one and the gentleness of the other underscores the myriad ways in which their relationship heals old wounds. With its layered yet understated language, including snippets of Jamaican and Haitian “patois” and complex yet truthful characterizations, this novel will hold the rapt attention of sophisticated readers. Ages 14-up.


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2001 Bank Street College Best Children’s Books for the Year
Simon & Schuster Publishers, Oct 1, 2000

A very gratifying first picture book from Williams-Garcia, one that plays with the willowness of language while following the shenanigans of a young African-American girl trying to escape the bite of a comb wielded by her mother. As the mother approaches with the comb, the girl transforms into a “Wild Waiyuuzee” and takes flight. Actually, you can’t see her at all, just the suggestion of her presence hiding here and there. “Trumpi. Trumpi. Shemama coming foot and foot after the Wild Waiyuuzee.” But all that Wild Waiyuuzee wants to do is wiggle and giggle and run. Williams-Garcia adds lots of good sound effects, spashed across the pages in electric color by Reed: “Ban-O-Bok!” “Ah, Ko!” “Splee-Zash!” Her mother tracks after her, speaking of nut oil and plaits and beads. Finally Shemam corrals the girl. “No owie owie me?” “No owie owie.” “Moka true?” “Mokatrue.” Out of the fantasy wilds – a jungle of tall grasses, iguana caves, and the deep bush as dadied up by Reed in lush color and oversized detail – emerges the girl, back into her room, to gentling hands and painless braids. Lovely, all around. (Picture book. 3-6)


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LA Best Book of the Decade
1997 PEN\Norma Klein Honor
1997 Texas Library Assoc. YA Roundtable List
1996 Coretta Scott King Honor Book
1995 Best Books – School Library Journal
1995 Best Books – Publishers Weekly
1995 Best Books – American Library Association
1995 Books Recommended for Reluctant Readers – ALA
1995 Horn Books Fanfare Award
1996 CBC Notable in the Field of Social Studies- NCSS

A moving story of a fresh-mouthed, 14-year-old mother who finds strong roots in her family’s past and the means for going forward. When Gayle is pregnant for the second time, her mother drags her off for an abortion, then puts her and her infant son on a plane for Georgia. Her uncle – a minister – and his wife and daughtr meet her with gretly varying degrees of welcome. Culture shock makes for some rough times, but Gayle unexpectledly discovers a kindred spirit in her bedridden great-grandmother, who not only becomes a confidante, but in an intense, spellbinding climactic scene passes on their family’s history in a way that binds Gayle and her son firmly to past, present, and future. Williams-Garcia (Fast Talk on A Slow Track, 1991) plays off Gayle’s street-forged language (no profanity, but otherwise authentically rude and gritty), expectations, and values brilliantly against her relatives’ gentler conventions. Gayle is sharp and strong-minded, but gut-wrenchingly naive about some things; she continually startles, and is startled by, her devout, stricltly raised cousin Cookie. Without moralizing, the author gives readers a good, hard look at the limitations of a world view in which sex and children are casual events (Gayle’s indifference to her abortion and to her son’s father is downright chilling), then suggests that with love, respect and a push at the right time, no rut is too deep to escape. A gift from a gifted storyteller. (Fiction 12-up)

Publishers Weekly July 31, 1995

As this unusually perceptive, streetwise novel opens, Gayle, 14, already a mother to seven-month-old Jose, is once again pregnant. Brooking no opposition, Mama marches Gayle to a clinic for an abortion, then sends her and Jose to Columbus, Ga., to live with Mama’s semi-estranged brother, minister Luther Gates, and his family. Much to Gayle’s surprise, the Gateses live in an antebellum mansion on a sizeable estate. And to her dismay, Luther’s wife, “Miss Auntie,” assigns her to help care for Great, her bedridden great-grandmother, along with a host of “holy roller” – especially cousin Cookie, who at 16 still wears kneesocks and hasn’t been “busted” by a man, much less kissed. But through learning about family history from astute, acid-tongued Great and Miss Auntie, Gayle, who has always stood defiantly alone, begins to see how she is an integral part of a greater whole. Williams-Garcia (Fast Talk On a Slow Track) perhaps effects a faster metamorphosis in Gayle than is strictly credible, but no matter. The emotions ring true, as does the portrait of contemporary black culture. Ages 12-up.


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1991 PEN/Norma Klein Citation
1991 Best Book for Young Adults (American Library Association)
1991 Parents’ Choice Honors for Storytelling
1992 Recommended list for the National Conference of Christians and Jews
1992 Recommended Books for Reluctant Young Adult Readers (YALSA)

School Library Journal. April 1991
An unusual, affecting book, told from the point of view of a black teenager. Success has always come easily to Denzel Watson and, for the first time in his life, he must come toterms with the spector of failure. He graduates from high school with a 98% grade point average, as president and valedictorian of his class, with plans to enter Princeton in the fall. While at Princeton as part of a six-week minority candidate summer program, Denzel continues to wing it through his classes as he had done throughout his school career. It doesn’t work. The son of a middle-class family who participated in and remember the civil rights movements of the 1960s and who have strong feelings of racial identity and pride. Denzel is not supposed to fail. He returns home and spends the rest of the summer selling candy door to door with dropouts and losers who have no other options in life. He decides he will attend a local college in the fall rather than Princeton, but lacks the courage to tell his parents. Denzel’s coming to terms with the possibility of failure, as well as his attitudes and eventual confrontation with his family, makes a novel that is very hard to put down. The characterizations are outstanding. Williams-Garcia has aptly captured the feelings of young people in the throes of growing away from their families enough to make their own decisions. The language is colorful and vibrant–these kids sound like students in many high school hallways. Teens everywhere will be able to identify and comiserate with Denzel as he goes through his options, gains confidence, and matures. – Pat Royal. Crossland High School, Camp Springs, MD


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1991 PEN/Norma Klein Citation (w/FastTalk on a Slow Track)
1989 Youth Advisory Board “A List for Imagination and Survival”
1989 New York Public Library Books for the Teenage
1988 Recommended list for the National Conference of Christians and Jews
1988 Recommended Books for Reluctant Young Adult Readers (YALSA)
1988 Cooperative Children’s Book Center Choices

Publishers Weekly. 11/9/1987
Joyce Collins seeks warmth and loving that she can’t find in school or at home. When she joins an African dance ensemble, her world begins to expand. The students welcome her, the teacher accepts her. Best of all, she meets J’had, a handsome drummer whom Joyce grows to love. The ensemble teachers Joyce many things: that in order to make the audience believe in her, she must believe in herself, and that to gain respect from others she must respect herself first. It’s a lesson learned painfully, only after Joyce destroys her chance to experience real love with J’had. The story ends poignantly and positively, inspiring readers to look for love and strength within. Though the time sequence is sometimes confusing, the author successfully balances Joyce’s many worlds: home, school, the dance studio, the world inside herself. Joyce’s understanding is believably paced and powerfully realized, and her story is uplifting. Ages 12-up.


“Mr. Ruben”, FACE RELATIONS, Marilyn Singer, ed., Scholastic, 2004.
“Make Maddie Mad”, FIRST CROSSINGS: Stories About Immigrant Teens, Donald R. Gallo, ed., Candlewick Press, 2004.
“A Woman’s Touch”, NECESSARY NOISE, Michael Cart, ed., HarperCollins, 2003.
“Making Do”, PERIOD PIECES, STORIES FOR GIRLS, Erszi Deak, ed., HarperCollins, 2002.
“Food From the Outside”, WHEN I WAS YOUR AGE, VOL. II, Amy Erlich, ed., Candlewick Press, 1999.
“Crazy As a Daisy”, STAY TRUE, STORIES FOR STRONG GIRLS, Marilyn Singer, ed., Scholastic, 1998.
“About Russell”, DIRTY LAUNDRY, Lisa Rowe Fraustino, ed., Viking, 1998.
“Cross Over”, TRAPPED, Lois Duncan, ed., Simon and Schuster, 1997.
“Wishing it Away”, DILEMAS, Donald R. Gallo, ed., Bantam Doubleday Dell, 1996.
“Chalkman”, TWELVE SHOTS, Harry Mazer, ed., Simon and Schuster, 1996.
“Into the Game”, JOIN IN, Donald R. Gallo, ed., Bantam Doubleday Dell, 1993.