One Crazy Summer/Rita Williams-Garcia: Reflections

Sunday, April 25, 2010

A week ago today, I joined Catherine Murdock and Rita Williams-Garcia at the Philadelphia Book Festival—sat in the cold air before these brave folks and talked books and book making while the wind blew.  "Zumba for everyone," Rita signed my copy of One Crazy Summer, as I headed home.  A little joke that had crept up between us.

Today I read that signed book through, smiling bigly and longly, thinking with each page, and then with the next one, I have another perfect book to recommend.  I love when that happens.  I love adding a new title to my short list of books that I think everyone should read.  The books on my short list transcend categories because they are so well made, because they are wisdom and they are poetry and they are heart, because they are meaningful story.  Tween novel?  Teen novel?  Adult novel?  Does it matter?  I don't think it does, when the writing is this good.

One Crazy Summer tells the tale of three sisters who visit their long-ago-left-them mother in Oakland, CA.  Delphine, Vonetta, and Fern have made their trip from Brooklyn in a plane that does some wary warring with the clouds.  They've arrived to find a woman who hardly makes a show of knowing them.  They're sent to a camp sponsored by the Black Panthers.  They watch their mother (who has changed her name to something nearly unspellable) ink a press and roll out poems in a kitchen never used for cooking.  Delphine, only eleven, has to see her sisters through.  She has to understand just what this Black Panther business is.  She has to be older than she is, or does she?  Can she hold onto eleven?

My friend Susan Straight named her daughter Delphine, and so I smiled extra wide when I read these words in Summer.  Delphine is our narrator.  This is what she has to say about names:

"A name is important.  It isn't something you drop in the litter basket or on the ground.  Your name is how people know you.  The very mention of your name makes a picture spring to mind, whether it's a picture of clashing fists or a mighty mountain that can't be knocked down.  Your name is who you are and how you're known even when you do something great or something dumb."

(Thank you, Kathye, for the photo.)


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