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Book review: “One Crazy Summer” by Rita Williams-Garcia

Special to The Washington Post
Wednesday, February 3, 2010; C04

ONE CRAZY SUMMER

By Rita Williams-Garcia

Amistad. $15.99, ages 9-12

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Delphine, 11, and her younger sisters, Vonetta and Fern, hope for a California vacation full of "Mickey Mouse, movie stars, and all-year sun," but they end up in a day camp run by Black Panthers. It's 1968, and their loving father has insisted they travel alone from Brooklyn, N.Y., to Oakland to visit the mother who abandoned them seven years ago. When they arrive, though, Cecile, a prickly poet, has neither the time nor the inclination for hugs and home cooking. The girls soon find themselves coloring protest posters, dining on Chinese takeout and planning a rally that will bring out some surprising truths about their family and the community.

Author Rita Williams-Garcia has a fine ear for the squabbles and fierce loyalties of siblings and a keen eye for kid-centered period details, including collect phone calls, go-go boots and the TV dolphin Flipper. With authenticity and humor, she portrays the ever-shifting dynamics among ultra-responsible Delphine, show-off Vonetta and stubborn Fern. As the first-person narrator, Delphine proves to be a wry, thought-provoking observer of the need for societal change. In just one example, she notes that newspapers show Black Panthers only as "angry fist wavers" and never as the women who are "passing out toast and teaching in classrooms." With the season of candy hearts hot upon us, it's refreshing to read a novel that resists easy sentiment. Williams-Garcia serves up a nuanced tale of family love that's also a lively valentine to the revolutionary '60s and the people -- adults and children -- who helped define that era.

-- Mary Quattlebaum

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