"You have the right to remain silent. Anything you say, can and will be used against you in a court of law. You have the right…"
Imagine getting arrested, except you didn't do anything wrong. Your biggest crime? Writing a poem while black. No, this isn't a super-dramatic episode of Law and Order—it's 1968, a time when segregation and unfair treatment is an everyday reality for people simply because of their skin color.
It's also the world our eleven-year-old narrator, Delphine, grows up in. She's used to people staring at her or giving her a hard time because she's black, and in many ways, One Crazy Summer is about her journey to understanding her rights and power as a human being. This journey is made a little more complicated thanks to some family drama on the side. See, her mom ditched her and her younger sisters when they were little, and they are spending the summer trying to get to know her again, while spending their days at the Center, which is run by the Black Panthers. Needless to say, it's a bumpy ride.
Rita Williams-Garcia's 2010 novel tackles big issues like racism, government control, unfair arrests, abandonment, and responsibility. But before you bail for a lighter read, you should probably know that this book bagged a bunch of awards, including the National Book Award, Coretta Scott King Award, and the Newbery Medal of Honor when it came out (source). In other words, One Crazy Summer doesn't just dive headfirst into tricky territory; it navigates it with aplomb.
You know about the Civil Rights Movement, right? How Martin Luther King, Jr. led a whole bunch of peaceful protests and then eventually the Civil Rights Act was signed into law? Sounds pretty straightforward, doesn't it? But the thing is, that's not the whole story—not by a long shot.
Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was definitely a huge presence in the Civil Rights Movement, and the peaceful actions he championed (like the Montgomery bus boycott and the March on Washington) were central events that helped sway political leaders in the U.S. toward the side of equality. But not everyone involved in the movement was totally behind King's ideals of nonviolence, and King was far from the only major player.
Enter the Black Panthers, who donned army berets, uniformed themselves in black, and paraded around with the slogan "Black Power" (long before Public Enemy, mind you). All this is to say that the Civil Rights Movement was a remarkably complex period in American history. And no matter how obvious the importance of racial equality may seem, the right side of this fight was never super clear about the best way to achieve this goal.
One Crazy Summer tackles this ambivalence through the perspective of three African American girls who head from Brooklyn, NY to sunny Oakland, CA to visit their long-lost mother for a summer. Our leading lady, Delphine, arrives with some pretty strong ideas about the Black Panthers, but when she finds her mom has gotten involved with the group, Delphine has no choice but to set aside her beliefs and assess the organization in person for herself. As she does, readers are reminded that when it comes to fighting the good fight, things are rarely as straight-forward as they seem—but this isn't a reason not to fight.
Check out Rita Williams-Garcia's website. It's full of information on her latest books, the writer herself, and much more.
Why Write a Trilogy?
Find out the answer to this question and many more by checking out this interview with Williams-Garcia.
Under the Influence
This interview goes deep. Williams-Garcia talks everything from the books that have influenced her most, to her own political awakening, to what she likes to do when she isn't writing.
Rita Williams Garcia explains her favorite childhood game and how it shows up in her book.
The Real Panthers
Bobby Seale and Huey P. Newton get armed and ready for action.
Check out the book cover for One Crazy Summer.
Sign Us Up
To see author Rita Williams-Garcia at her book signing, that is.