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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.