One Crazy Summer (novel)

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One Crazy Summer
AuthorRita Williams-Garcia
CountryUnited States
GenreChildren's historical fiction, realistic fiction
Publication date
Media typePrint
ISBN9780060760885 (trade bdg.)
LC ClassPZ7.W6713 On 2010[1]

One Crazy Summer is a historical fiction novel by American author Rita Williams-Garcia, published by Amistad in 2010. The novel is about Delphine, Vonetta, and Fern, three sisters, visiting their mother in Oakland, California, during the summer of 1968.[2]

In the year of its inception, the book was a National Book Award finalist for young people’s literature.[3] In 2011 it won the Coretta Scott King Award for its author,[4] the Scott O'Dell Award for Historical Fiction,[5] and was a Newbery Medal Honor Book.[6]


Delphine, aged 11, Vonetta, nine, and Fern, seven, live with their father and grandmother in Brooklyn, New York. However, the girls’ father sends them to Oakland, California one summer to stay with their estranged mother, Cecile, who refers to herself as Nzilla. Cecile never calls Fern by her name, always referring to her as "little girl." This makes Delphine believe what her grandmother has always said to be true—that Cecile abandoned her children because their father objected to her giving the baby the name of Afua. Cecile makes Delphine hand over the money her father gave them for expenses in California, giving them a small allowance to get Chinese food every day and forbidding them to enter her kitchen, which is Cecile’s workplace where she writes and prints poetry.

During the day, the three sisters go to The People's Center run by the Black Panther Party for breakfast and day camp, where they meet Sister Mukumbu. Here the three sisters get a radical education that paints the Black Panther Party in a positive light, showing the good deeds they do, such as feeding poor children. The Black Panther member Bobby Hutton has been shot and killed by police, and one of their founding members, Huey Newton, has been wrongfully jailed. The children at the center will soon participate in a rally to protest these injustices.

After a day trip to San Francisco, the sisters return home to find their mother Cecile and two members of the Black Panther Party being arrested. Cecile tells the police she has no children, so the girls pretend to live next door. Soon a friend from the Center, Hirohito, comes for the girls and allows them to stay with him and his mother until Cecile returns home.

The time of the rally arrives. During the talent show portion, the girls perform a poem their mother wrote, which they found while cleaning the kitchen after her arrest. After their recital, Fern takes the microphone and tells the Black Panthers how she saw one of their most vocal members, (Crazy) Kelvin, interacting agreeably with the police, which gets him in trouble with the party members.

At the rally, the sisters see their mother has been released from jail, and return home with her. Though Delphine and Cecile’s relationship remains strained, Cecile tells Delphine how she lost her mother at age 11 and had a rough life thereafter. She tries to explain why she left her children, but Delphine is still too young to understand. The next day, the girls return home, after finally hugging their mother.[7]

Character List[edit]

  • Delphine Gaither-- Age 11. A responsible girl who takes care of her two younger sisters; mature and caring; narrates the story.
  • Vonetta Gaither-- Age 9. An attention-seeking girl, outgoing and loves to perform. Also feisty!
  • Fern (Afua) Gaither-- Age 7. The youngest Gaither sister, who is courageous and outspoken; she’s attached to her doll, Miss Patty Cake.
  • Cecile (Nzila)-- Delphine, Vonetta and Fern’s mother; a poet who abandoned her daughters and moved to California; she also supports the Black Panthers.
  • Louis Gaither (Pa)-- Delphine, Vonetta and Fern's father.
  • Big Ma-- Louis' mother who has been taking care of her grandchildren since their mother left and who has no tolerance for Cecile's behavior.
  • Darnell Gaither-- Louis' younger brother who is fighting in the Vietnam war.
  • "Crazy" Kelvin-- Member of the Black Panthers and a police informant.
  • Sister Mukumbu: Teacher at the people’s center who involves the Gaither sisters in Black Panther activities.
  • Sister Pat-- Works at the people’s center.
  • Eunice, Janice, and Beatrice Ankton-- Three sisters who go to the people’s center and eventually become friends with the Gaither sisters.
  • Hirohito Woods-- a Japanese and African-American boy who goes to the people’s center; his father was arrested for being a freedom fighter.
  • Mrs. Woods: Hirohito’s mother; takes care of the Gaither sisters after Cecile is arrested.

The one thing that Delphine, Vonetta and Fern have in common is that they are afraid of flying


There are a multitude of themes to be found in this book. 1968 is a radical time for black history, and the portrayal of the Black Panther ideals helps to prompt discussions of Civil Rights, injustice, black pride, and racial prejudice.[8]

The power of names is another strong idea in the book. Cecile changes her name to Nzila, a Yoruba name meaning "the path."[9] It is also suggested that Cecile left her children because she could not name Fern "Afua." Delphine ponders why her mother would want to change her name since names are how we identify ourselves.[7]

The theme of women's liberation and advancement in society is also presented in this book. After one of the younger sisters gets a stomach ache, Delphine goes to the store with their Chinese food allowance and cooks real food in the previously forbidden kitchen. This causes an exchange between Delphine and Cecile in which Cecile accuses Delphine of trying to "tie herself to the yoke" and tells her she should not be so quick to "pull the plow."[10]

Other themes include family, forgiveness, and growth.[11]


One Crazy Summer is the first book in the Gaither Sisters Series. The second book, P.S. Be Eleven was published in 2013, and features the girls returning to their home in Bedford-Stuyvesant, Brooklyn.[12] The third book, Gone Crazy in Alabama was published in 2015 and features the sisters visiting their relatives in Autauga County, Alabama.[13] The two sequels were also winners of the Coretta Scott King Award.


This book is recommended for ages 9–12.[1] It has a Lexile of 750L.[14]

Critical reception[edit]

According to the critics, One Crazy Summer is a powerful and humorous story that is highly recommended. Teri Markson, writing for School Library Journal,states that it is "emotionally challenging and beautifully written" for children about ethnic identity and personal responsibility.[15] Tricia Melgaard from School Library Journal states that this story is delightful and told through the eyes of Delphine, a "sensitive and intuitive" young girl.[16] C. J. Morales, writing for the New York Amsterdam News, states that it is written to teach black history in a meaningful and amusing way, and "it will keep you laughing out loud." [17]



  1. ^ a b "One Crazy Summer" (first edition). Library of Congress Catalog Record. Retrieved November 22, 2014.
  2. ^ "One Crazy Summer" (Review). Parravano, Martha V. The Horn Book Magazine, November–December 2010: p. 124. Retrieved November 22, 2014.
  3. ^ "National Book Awards (2010)". National Book Foundation. Retrieved November 22, 2014.
  4. ^ "Coretta Scott King Book Award Recipients" Archived November 8, 2014, at the Wayback Machine. American Library Association. Retrieved November 22, 2014.
  5. ^ "Scott O’Dell Award for Historical Fiction" Archived September 24, 2014, at the Wayback Machine. Scott O’Dell Award. Retrieved November 22, 2014.
  6. ^ "Newbery Medal and Honor Books, 1922-Present".Association for Library Service to Children. Retrieved November 22, 2014.
  7. ^ a b "One Crazy Summer". Elementary Literature. Retrieved November 22, 2014.
  8. ^ "One Crazy Summer" (Teacher Guide). Crnkovich, Jackie. Novel Unites, Texas, 2012. Retrieved November 22,2014.
  9. ^ "One Crazy Summer" (Extended Summary). Enotes. Retrieved November 22, 2014.
  10. ^ "Summer Week Review: One Crazy Summer by Rita Williams-Garcia". Slatebreakers. Retrieved November 22, 2014.
  11. ^ "Review of the Day: One Crazy Summer by Rita Williams-Garcia". School Library Journal. Retrieved November 22, 2014.
  12. ^ "P.S. Be Eleven". Library of Congress Catalog Record. Retrieved November 22, 2014.
  13. ^ "Gone Crazy in Alabama". Harper Collins. Retrieved November 22, 2014.
  14. ^ "One Crazy Summer". The Lexile Framework for Reading. Retrieved November 22, 2014.
  15. ^ Markson, Teri, School Library Journal, 03628930, March 2010, Vol. 56, Issue 3.
  16. ^ Melgaard, Tricia, School Library Journal, 03628930, October 2010, Vol. 56, Issue 10.
  17. ^ Morales, C. J. New York Amsterdam News, 00287121, May 13, 2010, Vol. 101, Issue 20.