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Heavy Medal: A Mock Newbery Blog
Inside Heavy Medal

One Crazy Summer

OneCrazySummer One Crazy SummerJonathan tempered his enthusiasm for this title just slightly by noting that his appreciation for the author may be a bias.  The fact that the book is set in my hometown may be my bias.

But I think it’s undeniable that One Crazy Summer excells in voice and character.  I especially appreciate the complexity of the mother, and how 11-year old Delphine reflects on it to come realistically to her own beginning-of-coming-of-age.  In her Goodreads review, Roxanne Feldman notes the “quiet power” of this book and I concur…and think it attests to the writer’s skill.  I don’t notice the writer’s hand in the voice of this story, the way I do in equally-but-differently-well-done contenders. In that way, it’s the CLAUDETTE COLVIN of this year: so well presented by the author that the author disappears.

If you frequent Goodreads, you’ll have already noted my quibbles with the slightly-off geography in this story.  First I noted that there is no Orchard street currently in Oakland. After some research in the Oakland History Room, it seems like Orchard disappeared at the turn of the 19th/20th centuries to become 30th street.  This would place the characters near the old North Oakland (or, at times, Jack London) branch of the library system, and in the center of the Black Panther activity.  (There’s a chance that “Orchard” remained in the neighborhood vernacular of course…though I pored through our files of flyers from that library branch from that time and couldn’t find a reference to it. Only 30th street. I’d be really thrilled to find out from someone that I’m wrong on this) . This, really, is minor, but the geography caught up with me in the go-kart scence, since the West/North Oakland flats where this story takes place are called “flats” for a reason. No hills. At all. Unless the characters walked a mile across several major avenues to Pill Hill (so called b/c it’s populated by the medical profession).  But while they could walk this distance in the perpindicular directions and never “leave” their neighborhood (starting from Magnolia and 30th, they would have walked a mile in a different direction to get to DeFremery park for the rally), the crossing to Pill Hill would have been a notable event. 

However, after talking to a lot of other readers, I’m fairly convinced that this doesn’t negatively impact the power of the story.  It’s just a local bummer, as we don’t get a lot of major children’s books set in Oakland.   But given that my potential geographical bias negates itself over this issue, I feel confident in saying this is worthy of the Newbery committee’s attention.

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Nina Lindsay About Nina Lindsay

Nina Lindsay is the Children's Services Coordinator at the Oakland Public Library, CA. She chaired the 2008 Newbery Committee, and served on the 2004 and 1998 committees. You can reach her at ninalindsay@gmail.com

Comments

  1. Rebecca Donnelly says:

    I was excited to read an excellent children’s book set in undeservedly neglected Oakland, too. The funny thing is, even though I lived in North Oakland and I’m familiar with the flatness of the area, I never really walked through the geography of the story as I was reading it, and in some cases I pretty much invented it, grabbing a park here, a hill here, a bus somewhere else. I think that’s the magic of a really good story–that it can overcome the boundaries of the world you know and let you create what you need to make it work.

  2. Sondy says:

    I loved this. I was a little biased against it. I’m a little tired of 60s civil rights novels. It feels like it’s been said before.

    That was sooooo not the case here. The story was fresh and new and showed me how much I didn’t know.

    I also didn’t expect to like it because I’m sensitive about books where children have to take on responsibilities for younger siblings. I am one of the older children in a huge family and so had a lot of that — and it’s painful for me to read. But Rita Williams-Garcia pulled it off in a way that acknowledged that Delphine was only a child and allowed the reader sympathy for her, along with our admiration.

    This book is my top pick, partly because it completely overcame my biases against it. I think this is a brilliant book.

  3. Roger Sutton says:

    The discussion over small details is interesting one–legend has it that the Caldecotts of both Where the Wild Things Are and Tuesday were endangered when one committee member or another was bothered by inconsistent phases of the moon. Somebody else told me they were bugged by the lake in Holes, as desert Texas has no natural lakes.

    I had the local-geography problem with the recently published Yummy, a graphic novel from Lee & Low about the young Chicago killer Robert Sandifer. The narrator of the book says that the University of Chicago is just south of his neighborhood, Roseland, when in fact it is a few miles north. While I did email the publisher to let him know, i wouldn’t think of mentioning an error like this in a review–or using it to ding a book for a prize.

  4. Nina Lindsay says:

    Thanks Roger; it’s your’s an others’ opinions like this that let me get over it. I think it’s interesting how sensitive we can be about geography when our own personal geography is less-represented in books. I’ve heard now from a lot of New Yorkers who notice geographical mistakes in New York settings frequently. So it’s just something that happens, across the board, and not a terribly remarkable problem in any one case. I bring it up b/c I know many of us in less-famous cities get our knickers in twist (like I did!) when it happens to us.

  5. Mr. H says:

    There were things that really bothered me about ONE CRAZY SUMMER . . .

    I didn’t like how the book really glorified the Black Panthers’ good work without shedding any light on the other side of their work. The aggressive, sometimes violent side of their work. I read it back in the summer so I’m having trouble remembering particular aspects of the story (I have only my notes), but if I remember correctly, the only aggressively violent boy the girls deal with turns out to be a narc . . . is that correct? Kind of ironic to me if it is.

    If I gave this book to some of my 5th graders and told them to read it, I really don’t think they would have a clue what the Black Panthers were after reading it. That bothers me . . . I also didn’t like the way the Black Panthers were depicted as a cult. A cult that used children to do all their dirty work. In “school” the children make posters that are going to be used in rallies, rallies they don’t truly understand the point of. They make fliers to hang around town for rallies that they don’t truly understand. That bothered me . . .

    And Cecile . . . I couldn’t stand her. But maybe that was the point. I never really felt she redeemed herself in the end, but I got the feeling that the three girls felt she had. What kind of message does that send to kids? I’m okay with Cecile being the “villain” of the story, but I don’t like how the protagonists “forgive” the villain even though the villain’s behavior had changed very little. I didn’t like that . . .

    But . . . I did like the point of view from an older sibling. I feel like lots of books come from middle children perspectives, and youngest children perspectives, and I liked the point of view of the older daughter’s perspective. And if I remember it correctly, I love Fern’s “poem” in the end.

    I really don’t like this book as a Newbery winner and can’t wait for it to be discussed in length on here. I loved THE DREAMER and am enjoying KEEPER. I didn’t see the big deal about THE NIGHT FAIRY and kind of liked MOCKINGBIRD. THE BONESHAKER, A TALE DARK AND GRIMM, and TURTLE IN PARADISE are next on my list . . . I feel more up to speed this year than previous years! I’m pumped for the discussions!

  6. Nina Lindsay says:

    Mr. H, this is a story about a girl and her family first, and secondarily about one aspect of the Black Panther movement. Is it the author’s duty to give a full a balanced depiction of the entire movement in her work of fiction? Of course I’d like it to be as full as possible, and I’ll re-read it with your comment in mind…but I found it refreshing to see the movement depicted primarily as a positive thing, as nearly every other book for children on it highlights, and brings to the forefront, a perspective of it as “agressive and sometimes violent.”

    I also really don’t follow you when you say it was depicted as cult. Doesn’t community activism in any form look like this? Church activities? Local election campaigns? Save our ___?

  7. Mr. H says:

    Nina: “Doesn’t community activism in any form look like this? Church activities? Local election campaigns? Save our ___?”

    Sure it does. Maybe “cult” was the wrong word. I don’t know . . . some discussion may easily clear this up for me, I was just rubbed the wrong way about the depiction of the group and the way they used the children in the community to do all their work, yet none of the kids really seemed to truly grasp what was going on. It felt dirty to me. I don’t know why. And at some point in time, I do want to tackle the boy who turned out to be a narc, because I’m a little confused as to why he even needed to be in the story? He felt like RWG’s attempt to show the other side to the Black Panthers, but to make him a narc . . . defeated that a little.

    Most importantly, I guess the main reason I couldn’t truly enjoy this book . . . I found no message. At least not a good one. And that was primarily because of Cecile’s character. Maybe I need to reread the book (I actually plan on doing so with my 5th graders as our next read aloud after KEEPER). What message would you take away from this book? If the girls would’ve left Oakland still upset with Cecile, I would’ve been left with a totally different vibe, but they didn’t. Maybe Cecile showed them “the bigger picture” and that’s what you and other readers took away from the story but to me, she never once redeemed herself.

    And because of that, I have trouble finding RWG’s message or theme. It’s okay to leave your family behind, if you’re fighting for “the greater good”? As long as you’re semi-nice once or twice to the children you ran away from, they will forgive you and learn all sorts of things about themselves in the process? Nina, you said this is a story about a girl and her family first. So, what distinguished message or theme for children did you take away from it?

    I’m really rambling and I’m sorry, but as I said, I was just really bothered by what I took away from this story. Maybe future discussion will clear it up . . . maybe I need to reread the story . . . Either way, you don’t even have to address any of this now. Just ranting!

  8. Genevieve says:

    Mr. H, I felt like the girls came to understand Cecile a bit better, and to feel a little better about their relationship with her, but not that they forgave her completely or even mostly. So I didn’t read that message in it. More like, if you have a parent who is a very flawed person, and has abandoned you but wants to rebuild at least a tiny bit of the relationship, as small a bit as her flawed self manages, you may be able to understand her a bit and maintain some amount of relationship with her, rather than no relationship at all.

  9. Nina Lindsay says:

    Thanks Mr H, I think your rambling is fine. I appreciate this.

    Genevieve’s on to what I took away from the book. I’ve got to re-read it as well, but flipping it open, I think the answer’s in the final sentences: “How do you fly three thousan miles to meet the mother you hand’t seen since you needed her milk, needed to be picked up, or were four going on five, and not throw your arms around her, whether she wanted you to or not? Neither Vonetta, Fern, nor I could answer that one. We weren’t about to leave Oakland without getting what we’d come for. It only took Fern to know we needed a hug from our mother.” I don’t think Williams is making ANY excuses for Cecile, and neither are her characters. Her characters, however, are figuring out how to make something wonderful out of the family they HAVE got.

    Regarding kids doing the work of the movement without a grasp of what they’re doing….well first of all, they’re not doing ALL the work. They’re doing some of it. Their parents are busy themselves. And kids can only grasp as much as they can of a political movement. Again, I’m not sure that Williams was trying to send a “message” with this…she was trying to depict an historical setting, and show how it shaped her characters.

  10. Susan says:

    I really wanted to love this book, it’s been so well reviewed and adored by others. But a couple of big stumbling blocks have defeated me.

    First, the basic plot, stripped of civil rights issues, is that of an eldest daughter taking on the role of the mother who abandoned the family. Some have commented on the “big sister” role, but it’s not that….it’s pretty explicit in that she has become the second mom (how many big sisters know to the minute how long they can take in the bath before trouble will break out between their younger siblings?). She has long resented her mother for creating this situation, resentment that eventually boils over in a confrontation with her mom in Oakland.

    Problem? Well, eleven year old children take on parental roles only when there is a vacuum, and there is no such void in this family. Yes, the mother has abandoned them, but the girls have a father who loves them, is sane and there for them. They have a grandmother, ditto, ditto. If the father had been off in the army instead of the uncle, or an alcoholic and the grandmother had been senile or just mean, then the plot line would have made some sense, but as it was…..no.

    It was a false note, and unfortunately, it permeated the entire book….I kept trying to push it away, ignore it, but it would continue to sound off, and in the end I couldn’t let it pass.

    The other issue I had was with the depictions of Japanese Americans. The author seems to equate the problems/stereotypes/civil rights issues of the Japanese American with that of the African American, and I’m not buying it. Given the age of Hirohito’s mother – she was of childbearing age in the mid 50s when she had him, which would have made her a girl or teen during WWII – she would have spent several years in an internment camp. Her family would have lost their home, busines and all property that they couldn’t fit into two suitcases. If her parents were Issei (first generation Japanse immigrants), they would have been ineligible for US citizenship.

    The African Americans characters the history of slavery and the continual disenfranchisment from that period to the present day (1968 in the book).

    Both groups on terrible, unforgiveable, paths. Both facing the same oppressor. But do you compare wrongs? More to the point, do people in different oppressed groups compare them, do they join together against a common oppressor?

    History, unfortunately, suggests otherwise. Clashes between the newly arrived Irish and the newly freed African Americans, post Civil War, as they fought for the same jobs points to that. The Civil Rights movement and the Equal Rights movment overlapped, but didn’t really join.

    And a smaller issue, a quibble really,…there is no way, at all, that a Japanese American, a decade after the end of World War II, names her son Hirohito. None. Zip. Nada. Not a chance. I’m guessing the author thought of it as a great “protest” name, but it’s not so much a false note as a cacophony.

  11. Wendy says:

    Susan, I disagree about the unlikelihood of Delphine taking on a semi-parental role. Their father does not seem to me to be particularly “involved”, and their grandmother, while she’s done a good and responsible job of raising them and shows love generously, is also full of negativity about their mother. I get the impression that she was particularly vocal about not wanting the girls to grow up to be like their mother, and probably encouraged Delphine to take on extra responsibility because that would teach her to have what Cecile never did. There are also a couple of mentions of times when their grandmother was away, perhaps for extended periods. She would have prepared Delphine to get along without her, and Delphine would have grown accustomed to assuming that role. If she supervised her sisters’ baths during the time Big Ma had gone to Alabama ahead of them–say, at least a couple of weeks–it would have been natural for her to take on the same tasks at other times when they were away from Big Ma, like when they go to Oakland.

    While I was also very puzzled by the choice of the name “Hirohito”, I don’t think the book was trying to equate the fates of Japanese Americans and black Americans, or show them united in protest, or anything like that. The only Japanese Americans in the story are Hirohito and his mother (who is barely present in the book), and I never got the impression that they were involved for any reason except that their father and husband was a Black Panther and they supported him. If I missed cues/clues in there, I’d be interested in hearing about them.

  12. I finished OCS last night and am really struggling with the endings, so I’m asking for help! One of the pieces that I’m chewing on is Cecile’s history as she reveals it to Delphine. My reaction has been that I don’t want it to be in the book…but NOT because it’s not an important story to hear. (Ack, too many negatives!) It strikes me as an attempt to “explain” Cecile–to make excuses for her–and frankly I don’t think she needs to be explained, or should be explained. I think her character and needs and motivations are pretty clear already. If you don’t want to be a mother, you don’t have to have a tragic story in your past to explain why. You can just NOT WANT TO BE A MOTHER. So that backstory is bothering me. Maybe I’d feel better if some of that was worked in throughout the story instead of presented all at once? What if Delphine discovered her mother’s age at some point, and worked out that Cecile was only 6 years older than Delphine when she got pregnant? Might not that start Delphine considering her mother’s actions in a new light?

    I am also working on the responsibility/selfishness piece…when Cecile tells Delphine to “Be eleven” it stands out to me as something that is intended to be a clarifying moment for the book, but in fact none of the adults, from Cecile to Big Ma to the Sisters at the Black Panther center to Pa really *wants* Delphine to just “be eleven”. (Is Hirohito the only one who meets her where she is?) OK, so, that mixed message may be exactly what RG-W is trying to convey, but to what purpose?

    And the hug at the end–I’m not sure how I feel about that either! The powerful moments to me are when Cecile refers to the girls as her daughters at the rally, and when Delphine turns around in the airport to find Cecile right behind them instead of already striding away. Those strike me as meaningful gestures consistent with Cecile’s character and development. (On the other hand, *Fern* initiated the hug, which is consistent with HER character.) But the book ends with the hug–an act I do not see it as a genuine bridge between the girls and Cecile, (in my mind, she doesn’t give hugs, so it’s something the girls took, not something they shared), so why make that the focus?

    I’ve never been a book reviewer, folks, so I don’t have the critical chops I’d like to have, yet. I’m hoping one of you can offer your thoughts on these points and help me out! So many people are putting this one high on their lists, I’d like to understand the book better!

  13. Mr. H says:

    Melissa, I stuggled with Cecile’s revelations too . . . to me, the fact that the author included it at all, told me she WAS trying to make excuses for Cecile. That bothered me. Take out that revelation and tweak the girls’ emotions upon leaving in the end, and I wouldn’t have been so against this book. But the fact that Cecile was given a chance to explain herself and the girls leave San Francisco forgiving their mother in a way, really sent mixed signals to me. Totally changes and muddies up the message children could take away from this too. I have not yet heard an explanation of this to sway me in the other direction.

  14. Wendy says:

    I have a hard time imagining this book without some kind of explanation for Cecile’s–shall we say, unusual–behavior. Sure, it’s fine if people don’t want to be mothers, and they don’t need a backstory for that, but it’s a pretty universal value in this country that once people ARE mothers (or fathers), they’re not supposed to abandon their kids. I don’t think Delphine sees the backstory as any good kind of excuse, and I don’t think readers will, either. It isn’t an excuse, but a partial explanation.

    Melissa, I think your paragraph explains the ambiguous and complex nature of the hug perfectly. That seems like what Williams-Garcia was going for. It isn’t a failed resolution, but a successful non-resolution.

    Mr. H, what messages do you think children should vs. could take away from this book?

  15. Thanks to Mr H and Wendy for responding to my SOS! I am still thinking about it all and so appreciate your input.

    Mr H, thanks for coming forward and letting me know I’m not the only one who had a similar response to the story.

    Wendy, I think the distinction you raise between not wanting to be a mother and abandoning your children is a good one. I do accept that the story needs to provide some kind of explanation for Cecile’s behavior–it’s what the girls are looking for, and even probably what Pa is hoping they receive by visiting. However, I’m still a little frustrated that the story had to be so tragic; *I* can’t help reading it as a kind of rationale (In this story, what will balance this terrible abandonment of the girls? Another terrible story.) I’m not sure that real life is always so tidy, but then again, it’s a novel, it *isn’t* real life. I am looking forward to going back and re-reading the whole ending again paying special attention to Delphine’s reactions rather than my own. :)

    I also can’t say I’ve spent much time thinking about the difference between “failed resolutions” and “successful non-resolutions” –are there any hallmarks you look for, that help you decide which one you’re dealing with?

  16. Robin says:

    I have been reading all the commentary on One Crazy Summer with interest. I read it twice in the spring and my book club (adults who read Newbery books) read and discussed it this Sunday.

    It was a big hit with this group. I brought up some of the concerns I read here and it was interesting to gather the group’s opinions.

    1. Hirohito as a name. We all agreed it was an unusual choice, but a choice the author must have made carefully. So, we discussed why she might have chosen that name. We all knew Japanese women in the late 60s who were married to African American GIs and, though Garcia-Williams did not tell us that was the case, we felt it was a probable scenario, given the times. Also, Hirohito’s mother played a very traditional role as wife and mother which would be consistent with what we all remembered of the times. Some felt that the name might have been ironic–an African American male wanting to give his biracial son a strong name that certainly meant emperor. It would have been a name that was meant to thumb the nose of the Establishment. It was a perfect name for that purpose. Whether or not the mother has any hand in the naming is an interesting question, especially since the naming of Fern was such a catalyzing question for the girls’ parents.

    2. The Black Panther party. We all agreed that one of the strongest things about this novel was how strong the child point of view was. Why would they know anything about the BPP in Oakland than what they learned from the breakfast and education program? They mention the berets, the clothes, the revolutionary education the way kids would have at the time. We loved it. No one felt it odd that kids would be made to paint posters, sort mailings or anything else–we were all free labor for our churches during our childhoods. Even today, I see school age children holding handmade signs at anti-abortion rallies, anti-war events and other political events.

    For the record, we read Countdown along with One Crazy Summer and will read Ninth Ward and Keeper for our next meeting.

  17. Nina Lindsay says:

    I’ve been hestitating to jump in on the “parenting” thread of OCS before I get a good re-read in, but I do want to try to give people a handle on how to approach this regarding the Newbery criteria.

    It seems like many of us are reacting to how we feel personally about Cecile, and how Delphine responds to her mother. That is, whether this is the “message” that we ourselves would want to give to children.

    I urge you to tweak your perspective, and try to come at it from a slightly different angle. This is Rita Wililams-Garcia’s story, and the message is exactly the one that she intends. How well does she communicate it, to a child audience? How does she employ character, setting, and plotting, towards her “interpretation of theme or concept?” This is what we have to evaluate when we consider the literary merits of the book. I found her delivery to be powerful, and her setting and characters to be realistic and evocative.

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