Recently featured on the Nerdy Book Club as part of a round-up of brave, adventuresome heroines that elementary aged readers might want to meet before diving into YA dystopias such as the Hunger Games (link) One Crazy Summer follows sisters Delphine, Vonetta, and Fern as they travel from their home with their father and Big Ma in Brooklyn to spend the summer with their mother Cecile in Oakland, CA. But it’s the summer of 1968 and their mother doesn’t go by Cecile any more, she says her name is NZILA and she writes poetry and prints flyers for the Black Panthers. We follow the sisters as they go to a Black Panther’s camp, and as thanks to 11 (almost 12) year old Delphine pretty much take care of themselves in the face of their mother’s preoccupation.
While Delphine and her sisters were charming, and the interplay between them and their peers well done, I kept wondering about the intended target audience. Reading as an adult, I found myself goggling at children left to fend for themselves the way Delphine and her sisters were. I found the denouement with Cecile’s abrupt confession for why she’d left in the first place and her excuses for why she treated her children the way she had problematic (and hoping that my opinion wasn’t unreasonably biased by my own ethnic and economic privilege). Historical fiction can be a hard sell, and I wonder whether One Crazy Summer would appeal widely to middle-grade readers and recommend pairing it with informational texts to help students understand where history starts and fiction begins. Other adult readers found One Crazy Summer worthy of praise and it was a National Book Award Finalist and mentioned by the folks at #weneeddiversebooks