Study Guide

One Crazy Summer Themes

  • Race

    There is no talking about the Black Panthers without talking about race. That would be like talking about Tom Brady without mentioning football—you just can't do it. As Delphine spends time with the crowd at the Center, she learns from the Black Panthers and her eyes open to the ways in which racism operates, as well as how to resist it.

    We never feel like One Crazy Summer is preaching about race, though. Instead it shows what it's like for a young, African American girl growing up in the 1960s. Sometimes race is at the forefront, and others is takes a backset to other aspects of Delphine's life.

    Questions About Race

    1. Why does Delphine change her mind about the Black Panthers? How does her opinion change?
    2. What is the role of race in One Crazy Summer? How would it be different if the characters were not African American?
    3. How do Pa and Big Ma think about race? How are their views different from Cecile's? Who do you think Delphine agrees with more?
    4. Why do you think people taking photos of her bugs Delphine so much? How does her response differ from the flight attendant's? What does this tell you about race?

    Chew on This

    Delphine doesn't care about the Civil Rights Movement until her mom is arrested.

    Delphine yearns for racial equality but doesn't think the Black Panthers have the answers to finding it.

  • Friendship

    Sometimes books explore friendships between two people, but in the case of One Crazy Summer, friendship really shows up in the form of community, specifically at the Center. After Cecile is arrested, Delphine's new buddies from the Center take Delphine, Vonetta, and Fern in. There's a sense of responsibility amongst the people there. And you know what? It's pretty nice. Delphine sees how comforting it is to hang around people who get what it's like to be treated differently simple because of their skin color. From here, she starts taking an interest in the movement and wanting to be part of it. That's community for you: All for one, and one for all, and always a friend when you need one.

    Questions About Friendship

    1. When is the community at the Center strongest? When does it seem threatened?
    2. How is the community at the Center connected to race? What would be different if they were not united for a common cause?
    3. Do you think Cecile helps the community? Why or why not? Why is she stingy with her printing press if she believes in the cause?

    Chew on This

    She might not be much of a mother, but Cecile is the most important friend Delphine makes.

    This book shows that friendship can be a political act.

  • Youth

    Delphine sure has a lot of responsibility for an eleven year old in One Crazy Summer. She takes care of Vonetta and Fern, handling the cooking, cleaning, and dreaded bath time schedule, too. In fact, setting her age aside, Delphine's not much of a kid at all. Age is just a number, they say, and to Delphine, this means acting like she's thirty before she even hits her teen years. Fortunately, staying with Hirohito's family makes her realize she has to let go once in a while. This leads her flying downhill on a go-kart, finally playing and acting her age for once.

    Questions About Youth

    1. What would be different about the story if Delphine was an adult? Why is her youth so important?
    2. Cecile tells Delphine to be selfish once in a while. What would happen if Delphine took this advice? How is Delphine's maturity directly related to her mom abandoning them?
    3. What is Delphine's attitude toward youth and childhood? How does she feel when she acts like a child?

    Chew on This

    Delphine doesn't have the luxury of acting like a kid because someone has to be responsible for her sisters.

    Delphine puts too much pressure on herself to look out for her sisters when she should just act like a kid.

  • Abandonment

    Kind of feel like you're familiar with the whole kids-abandoned-by-their-mom story line? To be fair, it comes up pretty often in TV, movies, and books. But One Crazy Summer takes this old familiar plot thread and turns it on its head. Instead of a tale about how hard growing up without a mother is, we see Delphine, Vonetta, and Fern visit their long-lost mom for the first time in years. Is it awkward? You betcha. Does their mom, Cecile, leave a bit to be desired? Oh, definitely. Still, as we watch the girls and their mom try to make sense of each other, we see abandonment from a whole new angle. And that's a cool literary trick.

    Questions About Abandonment

    1. What are Cecile's reasons for leaving her family behind? Is Big Ma right that she left because she couldn't name Fern? Why won't Cecile explain her reasons to Delphine?
    2. Who do you think is angrier, Delphine at her mom for leaving, or Cecile that she is straddled with her kids for the summer? What is Cecile's attitude toward the girls? Does she regret leaving them?
    3. Why does Pa insist on the girls spending time with Cecile? What is Delphine's attitude toward her mother? Why won't she call her "mom"?

    Chew on This

    Cecile doesn't regret abandoning her daughters because they are less important to her than her life in California.

    Cecile can't be true to herself and stay with her daughters.

  • Prejudice

    Us humans have issues with prejudice—whether it takes the form of bullying, stereotyping, or blatant racism. Seriously, just pause to think about; we're betting you can identify prejudice you've witnessed or come across just within the past couple of days. In One Crazy Summer, prejudice shows up in spades. Whether Delphine and her sisters are being photographed for being well behaved, Delphine's wondering what's up with Hirohito, or the cops are busting up Cecile's printing press, prejudice runs rampant in this book.

    Questions About Prejudice

    1. What type of prejudice does Delphine come across in Oakland? What upsets her the most about these encounters?
    2. How is Delphine prejudice against other races and people? Think about how she treats Chinese people or men with Afros. What does this tell us about prejudice in the book?
    3. Societal prejudices change over time. Is it possible to read something historical like One Crazy Summer and still understand the role prejudices play in it without turning to outside references?

    Chew on This

    Delphine is so focused on racial prejudices against her that she fails to notice her own stereotypes and assumptions about people all around her.

    Fern and Vonetta are the only characters who don't reveal prejudices in this book, which shows the prejudice is something learned over time.

  • Identity

    In the words of some dead old Danish windbag, "to thine own self be true." Sounds simple enough. But what if you don't know who you are? Delphine is still figuring that part out in One Crazy Summer. She knows that she's black and she's a sister (and second mom) to Vonetta and Fern, but beyond that, she's not sure yet. She's not even certain the whole Black Power movement is even for her. As the summer progresses, though, Delphine starts to shore up her beliefs and sense of self—and she's not necessarily who she thinks she may be when the book opens.

    Questions About Identity

    1. How does Delphine grow and change over the course of the book? Is she the same person at the end as she was at the beginning?
    2. How do the themes of identity and abandonment intersect? Cecile acts like she has to leave her kids in order to be herself. Is that fair? Is finding yourself worth abandoning your kids?
    3. Why is Crazy Kelvin so caught up in racial identity? How does this impact the way he views himself and others? Should everyone who is a part of the movement have the same view of identity?

    Chew on This

    One Crazy Summer shows us that experiences shape identity.

    Even though Delphine matures in the book, she's still fundamentally the same person at the end as she was when we first met her.

  • Art and Culture

    We know poetry isn't everybody's thing, but it's a really big deal in One Crazy Summer. First off, Cecile—or should we say Nzila—writes poetry as a way of expressing herself and the feelings of many in the Black Power movement. Her words aren't just words, then; they are a way of explaining what it's like to feel isolated and judged everywhere she goes. We guess poetry runs in the blood, because Afua (a.k.a. Fern) picks up the pen, too, crafting her own original poem.

    At the rally, poetry unites the people. It also leaves the cops quaking in their boots. See? We told you it was a big deal.

    Questions About Art and Culture

    1. Is art worth getting arrested or dying over? Do you think Cecile should keep fighting for her poetry?
    2. How does Cecile's poetry make people feel? What is the purpose of her poems?
    3. Why doesn't Cecile want her daughters to read her poems? Why aren't they allowed in the kitchen with the printing press and poetry? Why does she run off at the rally?

    Chew on This

    Freedom of expression is one of our most fundamental rights, so it's worth Cecile fighting for.

    Writing and reading poetry is beautiful and pleasurable, but it's not worth getting arrested over.

  • Memory and the Past

    We know that memories don't really work the way real life does. They are disjointed, fuzzy, and often a little confusing, and we remember what we think happened rather than what actually went down. This is definitely Delphine's experience in One Crazy Summer. She has flashes of what her life was like before her mom left, but it isn't really strung together in some neat and tidy order that leaves her with a clear picture of life before Cecile bounced. There are huge gaps in Delphine's memory of what happened back in the day, which makes making sense of her mother only harder.

    Questions About Memory and the Past

    1. Check out how Delphine describes her memories. Is this similar to the way you remember things? In other words, what do you think of how memory is portrayed in this book? Pick a few passages to really dissect.
    2. What is left out of Delphine's memories? What does she focus on? Are her memories reliable? How can you tell? Why does this matter?
    3. Why do you think Delphine can't remember Fern's birth? Why does this bother her so much?

    Chew on This

    Delphine doesn't actually remember what happened in the past. Instead she pieces together what she's heard about her mother to create an imaginary figure.

    Just because Delphine was young when her mom left doesn't mean that she can't remember her clearly. Her memories are vibrant, detailed, and accurate.