The story is tightly centered around the three sisters. In spare, poetic prose Williams-Garcia layers nuanced descriptions and brief, evocative scenes to create three utterly distinctive characters — Fern, the youngest, looking out a bus window and singing to herself; the usually brazen Vonetta freezing up with stage fright at a rally; and the stoic Delphine remembering her mother before she left them. “Papa didn’t keep any pictures of Cecile, but I had a sense of her. Fuzzy flashes of her always came and went.”
Author Rita Williams-Garcia has a fine ear for the squabbles and fierce loyalties of siblings and a keen eye for kid-centered period details, including collect phone calls, go-go boots and the TV dolphin Flipper. With authenticity and humor, she portrays the ever-shifting dynamics among ultra-responsible Delphine, show-off Vonetta and stubborn Fern.
Set during a pivotal moment in African American history, this vibrant novel shows the subtle ways that political movements affect personal lives; but just as memorable is the finely drawn, universal story of children reclaiming a reluctant parent’s love.
And, I’m sorry. You can make amazing, believable characters all day if you want to, but there’s more to writing than just that. This writer doesn’t just conjure up people. She has a way with a turn of a phrase. Three Black Panthers talking with Cecile are, “Telling it like it is, like talking was their weapon.” Later Cecile tells her eldest daughter, “It wouldn’t kill you to be selfish, Delphine.” This book is a pleasure to cast your eyes over.
Kirkus Starred Review, Jan. 15
Each girl has a distinct response to her motherless state, and Williams-Garcia provides details that make each characterization crystal clear. The depiction of the time is well done, and while the girls are caught up in the difficulties of adults, their resilience is celebrated and energetically told with writing that snaps off the page.
The scenes depicting the girls at airports are just a few of the many moments in One Crazy Summer wherein the author’s gift for combining everyday settings with social commentary and wry wit make for memorable, but not heavy-handed, reading. Delphine rolls her eyes (and bites her tongue) when she and her sisters are stared at as if “on display at the Bronx Zoo,” and the girls engage in what Williams-Garcia calls “colored counting.” It’s an activity she and her siblings “did everywhere. It was a time when, in public places, you might not see a lot of African-American people. We’d count how many of us were there, how many words we got to say on TV.”
In ONE CRAZY SUMMER, readers see the historical changes through the eyes of Delphine. With humor, honesty, and innocence, Delphine comments on the events unfolding before her in the way only a child can. Delphine is quite conscious of the differences between blacks and whites in society, yet she is also a girl who responds from her heart rather than from slogans or mandates from others. Delphine is intelligent, taking the initiative to educate herself and to protect her sisters, yet she is still a little girl who longs for a mother to protect her. In ONE CRAZY SUMMER, Delphine embarks on a journey that will change her forever, not only in the societal changes she witnesses but also a journey that will bring her closer to understanding her mother and herself.