One Crazy Summer takes place mostly in Berkeley in the summer of 1968 where three polite little black sisters from Boston are dropped into the middle of the Black Panther scene.
Delphine, the oldest at 11, hardly remembers her mother, Cecile. Cecile left seven years earlier, when the youngest was barely born. The girls have been raised by their daddy and grandma ever since.
Big Ma doesn’t have much good to say about Cecile, frequently describing her as a crazy lady living on the streets. So when the girls are told they’re being sent to spend the summer in California getting to know their mother, they expect the worst.
Delphine takes charge, putting a positive spin on the trip by playing up the plane ride and dreaming of beaches, movie stars and Disneyland. She is determined not to let her sisters make a “grand Negro spectacle” of themselves in front of all the white people they meet along the way.
Told from the first person point of view of Delphine, the word choice reflects her time and place in history. The term African American never appears in the book, as it was not yet coined. This was a time of Afro hair styles, discrimination, and protests.
When they reach Berkeley, Cecile lives up to her reputation as a lousy mom. The kitchen is totally off limits, and dinner is always the same Chinese takeout that the girls have to go buy for themselves. But at least Cecile has an apartment rather than the cardboard box or park bench that Delphine feared.
Not that they get to spend much time in the apartment. Every morning Cecile sends them down the street to the park where the Black Panthers serve up free breakfast and some sort of summer camp for kids. Cecile tells the girls to stay gone all day so as not to disturb her work.
Her work, like the rest of her is a mystery, but it turns out Cecile is a poet for the Black Panther cause, and has a printing press in her kitchen. Very cool!
One Crazy Summer, suggested for ages 7 to 12, won the Scott O’Dell Award for Historical Fiction, and is both fun and enlightening. A lot has changed in 43 years, and a lot has stayed the same.