When revolution is introduced in MG fiction, theme relates as much to historical organizations that have worked to change societies as it does to the changes undergone by young people themselves. These organizations can change, challenge, clarify or redirect our purpose. They can create an accelerated growing up where children’s awareness of the world around them evolves as they move from children who parrot slogans and collect images to becoming someone who questions or even defies purpose and authority.
In One Crazy Summer Rita Williams-Garcia gives us Delphine, the oldest of three sisters who in their mother’s absence, becomes their mother. The most telling image of Delphine is quite early in the book. While we will often see her acting as an adult, this paragraph reminds us that she is a child. It tells us of the power she finds in words and how easily she can be manipulated.
There’s nothing cute about dropping things carelessly. Dropping garbage and having puppies shouldn’t be called the same thing. “Litter.” I had a mind to write to Miss Webster about that. Puppies don’t deserve to be called a litter like they had been dropped carelessly like garbage. And people who litter shouldn’t be given a cute name for what they do. And at least the mother of a litter sticks around and nurses her pups no matter how sharp their teeth are. Merriam Webster was falling down on the job. How could she have gotten this all wrong?
In traveling across country to visit her mother, Delphine and her sisters end up being fed and nurtured by the Black Panthers. They’re also indoctrinated. We’re inside Delphine’s thoughts as she weighs the teachings against the wisdom of Big Ma. Though she rebels against the rhetoric of calling others ‘brother’ and ‘sister’ and changing her identity from ‘colored’ to ‘black’, we find that when they girls take a trip to explore San Francisco, Delphine without hesitation utters “Power to the people” to a group of hippies she meets. If she hadn’t opened the Panther’s newspaper and began reading for herself, she might not have ever felt the danger of being with the Panthers.
It’s hard to believe that Delphine and Ling are so close in age. Delphine who mothered her sisters and Ling, an only child who was so protected by her parents and neighbors. She misses the fabrics, foods and styles that the Maoists now condemn as bourgeois. While she is no closer to her mother than Delphine is, she still manages to maintain the innocence of childhood and in that innocence, she makes friends with Comrade Li who takes part of her family’s home for himself. She craves the red scarves of the Young Pioneers while at the same time practicing English each night with her father. After reading Chairman Mao’s writings, Ling reflects
I didn’t understand what ‘class’ and ‘revolution’ had to do with a dinner party. How I wished Mrs. Wong and Dr. Wong would come back and we could have a big dinner party so Niu would smile again. I missed all the dishes Mother used to make, even her strange ones.
Ling is tormented in school by her classmates and especially by Gao. He crudely spits in her seat, is mean and abusive of his power when he takes charge of the class. When her home is stripped of bourgeois items by party members, they ridicule and rip her doll.
Delphine doesn’t care for the way Brother (‘Crazy’) Kelvin attempts to force the children to adopt the rhetoric of the Panthers, the way he belittles their childhood fantasies. He makes fun of Fern’s white doll.
Kelvin is brought down in words.
“Crazy Kelvin says ‘Off the pig’. Crazy Kelvin slaps everyone five.
The policeman pats Crazy Kelvin on the back.
The policeman says ‘Good puppy.’
Crazy Kelvin says ‘Arf. Arf.
Arf, arf, arf, arf,’
Because I saw the policeman pat your back,
Though seeming to give in to Gao and her persecutors, Ling found the words in her mind to defeat Gao when she was forced to deliver a public apology to him.
I had to distract them. I’d do anything to lead them away from Mother. That was the only way to keep her safe.
Bang! Bang! “I apologize to Gao!” For his being so ugly.
The board was heavier than I expected. The rope cut into the back of my neck through my black cotton sweater.
Gao and Yu giggled behind me.
As long as I am alive, I will seek revenge. Bang! “I apologize to Gao!”
A few children joined in my chant. Strangely, the shame became less overwhelming.
Through these social movements, these young girls change from seemingly voiceless children to individuals connected with society. They each literally find ways to maneuver their world, Ling by shopping in the market and Delphine by exploring San Francisco with her sisters. They defeat the males who try to oppress them and connect with young men and women who support them. Their roles in their own families change as they are no longer the naive daughters they once had been.
Garcia-Williams and Compestine have done remarkable jobs of exploring critical eras in history on a micro level. In rather violent times, these young girls develop into strong young women without resorting to the violence that surrounds them. They fall back on the teachings of their mothers and grandmothers and remember how to move forward with dignity. Numerous comparisons can be made with these stories which are separated by ten years and thousands of miles.
Both girls long to see the Gold Gate Bridge. If only they could meet there!
One Crazy Summer (ARC) was a gift from TheHappyNappyBookseller.
Revolution is not a dinner party was borrowed from by school media center.