I wished I hadn’t opened up that newspaper. I wished I could go right on thinking we were having breakfast, painting signs, and learning our rights. I wished I didn’t know that I was marching my sisters into a boiling pot of trouble cooking in Oakland.
I can’t decide if I like One Crazy Summer by Rita Williams-Garcia so much because it’s a really good middle grade novel about a girl who spends the summer trying to get to know the mother who abandoned her or because it’s a book about a girl who spends the summer at the Black Panther Party summer camp.
I mean, I really cannot decide. Because it is so hard for me to separate my love of the Black Panther Party from the rest of the novel, and the fact that this book is written, basically, about the experience of participating with the Panthers as a child just…I can’t even put it into words.
The setting and premise are awesome is what I’m trying to say.
It’s hard for me to talk about the book itself because I really want to just go off on a tangent about how into the Panthers I was in college. I think to understand how into them I was you need to know that when I went to Oakland two summers ago, I was really super bummed that I didn’t have enough time to take the Black Panther tour.
Really super bummed.
But this isn’t about me. This is about the book. One Crazy Summer, while about a girl’s experience at the summer camp, is more specifically about eleven-year-old Delphine, and the trip she takes to get to know her mother. I always have a problem talking about well-written books because there’s not much to say except: this book is good. The characters are well-drawn, the setting and tone are pitch-perfect, and the relationships are all clear as is the thread of conflict throughout those relationships.
One of the things Williams-Garcia does well is mention key historical moments about the Party without overexplaining. It’s more of an invitation to find out more. What is COINTELPRO? Who is Li’l Bobby Hutton? What happened the night he died? (I don’t think she mentions Eldridge Cleaver, but he was there. So: who is Eldridge Cleaver?) Why do they call the cops “pigs”? It also doesn’t come up that the FBI thought the Free Breakfast Program was the most dangerous aspect of the Panther’s activities, but it’s easy to see why Hoover wanted it shut down immediately. (Also, did you know that’s why schools serve breakfast now? You can thank the BPP for that.)
Probably the best thing about the book (aside from Delphine, and, of course, the BPP) is Delphine’s mother, Cecile, and the complicated relationship she has with her children. As an eleven-year-old, Delphine’s understanding of her mother is perfectly rendered. As an adult reader, I appreciated that the reason Cecile left is as simple and complex as the fact that she couldn’t name her youngest daughter. Something Delphine doesn’t quite understand–nor would a reader in her age group–but that I can imagine her thinking about over and over as she becomes an adult.
I also enjoy we get an East Coast perspective of the Party as well as, through Delphine’s narration, how older black people (like her grandmother) see the Party.
So what I’m saying is I really enjoyed the story on its own terms. And I love, love, love that cover.
Now that that’s out of the way…
ADDENDUM, WHEREIN I TALK ABOUT THE BLACK PANTHER PARTY
Can I talk about my experience with the Black Panthers now? Basically, my gateway drug was Assata: An Autobiography. (And thinking about it, I really probably should have named my daughter Assata because THAT IS HOW MUCH I LOVE THE BOOK. And Assata. SHE IS SO BADASS AND I LOVE HER.) I read that in an intro African-American studies class and immediately wanted to know more. So I signed up for a seminar on the Black Panthers where we read pretty much all of their autobiographies and seminal works. We discussed their philosophies and their complicated relationships. We read books related to them. I forced my friends to watch Panther with me. It was pretty intense.
So, some books if you’re interested in learning more about the Black Panther Party in their own words:
- Seize the Time: The Story of the Black Panther Party and Huey P. Newton by Bobby Seale
- To Die for the People by Huey P. Newton
- Soledad Brother: The Prison Letters of George Jackson by George Jackson
- Soul on Ice by Eldridge Cleaver
- This Side of Glory: The Autobiography of David Hilliard and the Story of the Black Panther Party by David Hilliard (probably my second favorite after Assata’s autobiography)
- A Taste of Power: A Black Woman’s Story by Elaine Brown
- War Against the Panthers: A Study of Repression in America by Huey P. Newton
- Agents of Repression: The FBI’s Secret Wars Against the Black Panther Party and the American Indian Movement by Ward Churchill
Also did you know that Jesse Jackson got his whole Rainbow Coalition bit from Fred Hampton, leader of the Chicago Panthers?
MY MIND IS FULL OF ALL OF THIS KNOWLEDGE.
(Fred was, tragically, assassinated by the police–there are pictures of them carrying his body out and smiling–as he lay in bed next to his pregnant girlfriend who did not incur a single bullet wound. SERIOUSLY.)
And we all know that Huey from The Boondocks is named after Huey P. Newton. So.
*****draws hearts around the Black Panther Party*****
Quirky Brown Challenge: 1/3; Support Your Local Library: 4/30; POC Reading Challenge: 3/15