“One Crazy Summer” by Rita Williams-Garcia
The historical fiction novel One Crazy Summer, written by Williams-Garcia, touches upon the topics of racial discrimination in America. The author provides the readers with the opportunity to learn about changing social times and how people in different states of America experienced racism. The novel also discusses the Black Panther movement, highlighting the general atmosphere of the struggle for freedom and independence. This book contains many themes such as responsibility, loyalty, and overcoming stereotypes. The author shows the characters’ openness to change and decision-making power (Henderson 436). The political topics discussed in the novel reflect equal respect for all people’s personal and social freedom. The author’s main idea is to depict the personal struggle and the courage to dedicate life to fighting for justice.
The author uses the fictional story to convey the idea of personal struggle. The story focuses on the three girls visiting their mother, who abandoned them long ago. The relationships between Cecile, the mother, and Delphine, the protagonist, are full of misunderstandings. At the story’s beginning, Delphine and her sisters consider visiting her mother as a holiday trip (Williams-Garcia 10). They are not interested in communicating with Cecile. However, when girls realize that their mother had reasons to abandon them, they partly understand her sorrow. The author implements the hug scene in the denouement of the narration (Williams-Garcia 23).
This moment symbolizes the mutual acceptance of the characters and their struggles. Through the story’s rising action, the author presents the characters’ traits (Henderson 434). It is especially indicated in the case of Cecile and other members of the Black Panthers. At first glimpse, they seem pretty cold and even aggressive. However, the reader gains an understanding of the events impacting the characters’ personality traits only in the denouement.
Another plot tool that the author uses author is the immersive effect. The plot is developed in a way to involve the reader in the described situation through Delphine and her sisters. They and the reader are not aware of the racial discrimination problems with which Cecile and other Panthers fight. Thus, thanks to such plot formation and development, the reader comprehends the complete picture of the struggles Delphine comes through. The unfamiliar people who seem crazy and inhospitable and focused on some suspicious activities scare the girl at first. However, later she realizes that they try to protect their rights and freedoms. The true nature of police and racial humiliation is presented through the eyes of the children. Such an approach contributes to evolving the reader into the narration making the personal struggle of characters more tangible.
Delphine, the main character, is a good role model. She is responsible for her sisters, makes difficult decisions, and can read sticky situations and people. She is kind, intelligent, and open to growing beyond her understanding. Delphine, as a character, expresses the ability to change. Even though she first considers the Black Panthers’ activities unfavorable, she later changes her perspective. Analyzing the ethical correctness of the actions of the movement and police, the girl chooses the right path. The climax scene, when Delphine and her sisters read the poem during the rally, shows that girls have high moral values (Henderson 440). Realizing the unfairness of treatment to her mother, Delphine decides to support the movement. Such actions emphasize that the girl associates her with her mother’s cultural identity and defends black people’s pride, dignity, and freedom. The character reflects the choice of supporting the cultural identity no matter the race.
On the contrary, Cecile is not a good role model, as she abandoned her. However, this character is vital because she represents behavior that facilitated role reversal for women. Cecile’s character is more than just a soulless mother, as she personifies the changes in America. Through this woman, the author highlights the role of life choices. In the final scene, Cecile’s revelation with her daughters shows that she has never wanted to leave them alone. Cecile sacrificed her happy life to fight for justice and equality. The cruel character traits she possesses result from complicated living conditions and racial discrimination she faced. Cecile believes that she can change the world for the better using her poetic skills. She is convinced that art can touch the human heart, showing that all people are equal no matter their skin color.
Set in 1968 in Oakland, California, and other states of America, civil action and riots are part of the story, but they are subtle and informational rather than direct and preachy. The setting shows that racial discrimination flourished all over America in that period. The most outstanding aspect of the setting is the author’s symbolism to convey implicit ideas. For example, the doll, which belongs to one of Delphine’s sisters, plays a significant role in the plot. The doll symbolizes the previous unawareness of sisters about the cruel discrimination. Delphine and her sisters are disappointed at first when the doll is painted black (Williams-Garcia 12). However, later they realize the importance of such details for the ethics of the Panthers.
The main aim of the author is to depict the revolutionary fortitude of people ready to defend their freedoms and pride. The author of the story numerously discusses the topic of personal struggle. The first and most vital decisive theme is correlated with the anti-discrimination actions of the Black Panthers. The author offers the readers to decide which party they should join. Williams-Garcia emphasizes the cruelty concerning black people (Henderson 442). However, the novel also shows that the representatives of the movement for black people’s rights can also be aggressive and dangerous. Even though they had more reliable reasons to be cruel, the author shows that all people are the same. Thereby, Williams-Garcia claims that the treatment of all people should be equal.
Another theme through which the author presents the main idea is forgiveness. The mental struggle of the main character is centered on the feelings of offense to Cecile. For the child, it is extremely difficult to be raised without the mother’s love. Delphine and her sisters experienced the cold and cruel attitude of the mother (Williams-Garcia 12). Realizing the reasons for the mother’s behavior, the girls forgive her. They were able to do so only thanks to their mental strength and ability to accept other people’s problems. This vital decision is also related to the theme of acceptance and equality. All people have reasons to behave one way or another. There is no rational reason why some minorities should be discriminated against.
The Impact of the Story
The story allows the reader to plunge into the atmosphere of discrimination and humiliation. For me, it was essential to experience the emotions of black people during these periods. Thanks to the author’s plot, literary tools, and strategies, my perception of racial discrimination changed. The most exciting aspect of the story is how Williams-Garcia shows the similarity of all people through aggression. After reading this novel, I reconsidered the idea of discrimination itself. The historical motifs of discrimination seem pretty illogical, as well as the black people’s attempts to regain their rights. Many problems should have been solved more ethically in that period.
The emotions of Delphine, who was scared by the Black Panthers, are similar to what many people experience today. The freedom movement seems dangerous and illegal at first. I also share the position Cecile has in deciding to leave her daughters. Considering her life conditions, it was the only rational choice. In general, the characters’ mental strengths inspire getting outside of their comfort zone.
Therefore, One Crazy Summer by Rita Williams-Garcia is a historical fiction novel discussing the problem of personal struggle for forgiveness, pride, and justice. The discussion of the main themes is proposed under the impact of racial discrimination. The author masterfully implements the different discussed above tools to express the atmosphere of that historical period. Depiction of the Black Panther movement in the narration allows making the reader’s experience more authentic. The story shows how life makes people take painful paths to strive for justice. The author encourages the readers to become better and eliminate discrimination as one of the main problems of society. Even though the setting shows the other period, the black people’s struggle for respect is still in action.
Henderson, M. “Black Girls Matter: Black Feminisms and Rita Williams-Garcia’s One Crazy Summer Trilogy.” Children’s Literature in Education, vol. 50, 2019, pp. 431-448. Web.
Williams-Garcia, R. One Crazy Summer. Amistad, 2010.