I'll start this review off with some more honesty: I was determined not to like this book. Not that I wanted to point out and nitpick at every single flaw of it, really, but I didn't want to feel any particular fondness towards it. After all, I'd picked my personal favorite for the 2011 Newbery Medal before we even knew what the 2010 Medalist was (though, at that point, we'd already figured "When You Reach Me" was taking the gold). That book, of course, was "Mockingbird," a book that I frequently say was the book I wish I had when I was a kid, so large an impact it had.
Others had their choices in mind as well, and in Mock Newbery circles I would hear three words over and over again, the three that make up this book's title. I knew about the book. It sounded interesting, but I was not convinced. I bought it but didn't read it, finding reason after reason to skip it for something else. My biggest reason often boiled down to this: "It can't be that good, can it? I mean, really?" Still, when praise is unrelenting, it is hard not to pay attention, so I broke down. Having read it, I cannot say that the hype surrounding this book was undeserved. That would be a lie. This is definitely an award-worthy book here, and I'm honestly not so surprised about that.
I have read only one other book by Rita Williams-Garcia, and that would be her National Book Award Finalist "Jumped." I did not like "Jumped," but its problems did not lie in the writing so much as characterization. They were strong characters, alright, but they were terribly unpleasant and unlikable. I had strong faith that, given a good idea for a story, that she could churn out a book worthy of great praise. The characterization is strong in "One Crazy Summer." The three sisters are never anything except individual characters, and their every move is completely plausible. Even the least likable character in the book, the initially reprehensible Cecile, proves to be more than just an evil mother, however poorly equipped she may be.
The little description on the inside flap of the jacket describes the book as "heartbreaking," and boy does the book deliver in that aspect. Really, I did not think I would be able to get through this book without crying, once I read the first five or six pages. Though this is not the most despairing middle-grade fiction I've ever read (that honor goes to the great "Somewhere in the Darkness"), it certainly comes close. These kids endure a lot of hardship over the course of the book's 215 pages, and if the ending seems a little too simple, it's still no less of a relief and as well-written as the rest of the book.
I like when historical fiction doesn't shove a thousand facts down your throat, and thankfully this book, with its little-discussed subject matter, avoids such a trap. I felt I knew about as much of what was going on with the Black Panthers as Delphine did, and it made about as much sense to me. Which seems just perfect, to be honest; after all, if you were an eleven-year-old in the middle of a movement like that (or really, any sort of huge, history-making event), you'd be pretty bewildered, wouldn't you? Luckily, the book is anything but hard to follow, mostly because the writing is so descriptive without being TOO descriptive that it's easy to get swept into the story within the first page.
How often do books with levels of hype that reach the stars live up to expectations? Well, I like nearly everything, so maybe you shouldn't be asking me that. But both of this year's HUGE buzz books (this and "The Dreamer") proved to deliver everything I was promised they would. This year has been top-notch for kid's books, and I expect a satisfying harvest of Newberrys come January. If "One Crazy Summer" isn't part of that crop, the committee must be a little crazy themselves.