Mother is a statement of fact.
Mommy gets up to give you a glass of water in the middle of the night. Mom invites your friends inside when it's raining. Mama burns your ears with the hot comb to make your hair look pretty for class picture day. Ma is sore and worn out from wringing your wet clothes and hanging them to dry; Ma need peace and quiet at the end of the day.
We don't have one of those. We have a statement of fact.
It is not without a little trepidation that Delphine boards a plane with her little sisters to visit their mother in Oakland, California. When they get there, they're presented with a single room to share and told to walk themselves to get their own Chinese take-out for dinner. The end of their 28 day stay could not come soon enough.
This is a book that I want to tell you all about in quotes, because even in soundbites, it's so so good.
My sisters and I had stayed up practically all night California dreaming about what seemed like the other side of the world. We saw ourselves riding wild waves on surfboards, picking oranges and apples off fruit trees, filling out autograph books with signatures from movie stars we'd see in soda shops. Even better, we saw ourselves going to Disneyland.But they don't go to Disneyland just like they don't find a Mom or a Mommy in Oakland. They go to Black Panther Summer Camp. Delphine, Vonetta and Fern learn about the movement, about the Panthers themselves (who they've only seen in news stories), and about each other. Delphine, the only of the three who remembers her to begin with, also gets to learn about the mother that abandoned them.
But, as Liz B. points out, this isn't necessarily a book about the Black Panthers or the 60s or even finding a mother. This is mostly a sister book. There's Fern, the baby, who has carried around a (white) baby doll for as long as anyone can remember and is always ready to throw out a "surely" in support of her sisters. Vonetta constantly seeks attention like the middle child she is, and she's desperate to make friends with the most fashionable girls at camp, even at the expense of her sisters. Then there's Delphine. She promised her Pa she would take care of her older sisters, like she always has, and it's her job to keep them out of trouble (and keep them from killing each other). She's saved up money to pay the fines on the books she checked out from the library to read to her sisters each night before bed. She plans activities for the three of them to do in order to make the most of their trip to California (I looked forward to their field trip to San Francisco almost as much as Delphine did). She tries to stand in between her sisters and her mother; she remembers how crazy her mother can get. She's the leader.
She gave another "Hmp" and a headshake. "We're trying to break yokes. You're trying to make one for yourself. If you knew what I know, seen what I've seen, you wouldn't be so quick to pull the plow."It's Delphine, Vonetta and Fern, their relationship and interactions, that drive the story. They help each other get through what looks like a horrible situation until it becomes kind of fun. Together they're the Gaither sisters. They finish each others sentences, each knows just how to get under the other two's skin, and though they take sides two against one all the time, they all always stand up for each other in the end.
I sort of knew what she meant, but someone had to look out for Vonetta and Fern while we were here.
I stacked the plates in the sink and ran the hot water.
"It wouldn't kill you to be selfish, Delphine," she said, and moved me out of the way to wash her hands. Then she went back to praying over her puzzle pieces.
Though the story is, clearly, centered around Delphine and her sisters, the "supporting cast" is fleshed out and important. There are tons of people at the People's Center while the girls are at camp, but their teacher Sister Mukumbu, who Delphine recognizes as a "real teacher" right away, lends the tiny bit of normalcy that Delphine needs to settle into the camp and Oakland. There's also a boy, Hirohito. Though it's no where near a major storyline, I loved the awkward crushing that went on all around him. And, of course, there is the girls' mother. As the story progresses, she becomes more of a real person than the dismissive, nervous woman who picked them up (late) from the airport. We also find out just how much Delphine remembers about her and how much she misses having a mother (even if she won't admit it). The relationship between Delphine and Cecile (their mother) is built on more understanding than either of them want to admit, and watching it unfold was one of the most moving parts of this story.
Overall, One Crazy Summer was a wonderful book and totally deserving of it's numerous awards! It has it all: history, humor, emotion, drama, and annoying but lovable little sisters!
Book source: Philly Free Library
Links to Amazon.com may be affiliate links for the Amazon Associates program. If you buy something through this link, I may receive a referral fee.