WoW! It’s been a great day’s reading…It feels like a privilege to have read this book, set in Oakland, California in 1968. This is the time of the Blank Panthers, Sit-ins, Martin Luther King and Delpine, the eleven year old protagonist is struggling to come to terms with a mother who abandoned her and her two sisters, and who reluctantly has them to stay for a month over summer. She is also struggling over what it means to be who she is – coloured or black, suppressed or oppressed, and how to deal with that.
Delphine is only eleven, but she is the mother that her mother is not. She looks after her two little sisters, Vonetta and Fern with a determined resilience that is just too sad, and yet so powerful. One Crazy Summer the girls are sent to live with their mother for a month. Their mother that they have not seen since she walked out on them after Fern was born. Delphine believes she left them because of an argument over Fern’s name.
In NZ the fern is a powerful image of new life and potential, symbolised by the koru. New unfurling life, strength, potential and peace. This feels right for the book. That the name Cecile wanted to call Fern means mercy and protection, is also right for the story.
For me, while Delphine was a powerful storyteller, and she carried the storyline with a real dignity and truth, Cecile was the story. Her poetry rocked! As did Fern’s. Strangely, while Cecile’s poem was about being the mother of the nation, Delphine symbolised and lived the self-restraint and subsuming of self that brings to mind oppression. Delphine was the mother to her mother, the mother earth. Cecile was the game changer, the rebellious, obstinant, bruised child. Delphine has the strength to see many perspectives, and allow difference – to respect the different pathways to freedom. And her strength means she can help it to happen.
This beautiful, upside down book does not resolve everything. But it shows a pathway to understanding hurt and anger, deprivation and resilience that is ultimately hopeful, if not perfect.
I really felt that this book was not SET in the time, but OF the time. The little touches didn’t feel forced, they felt true…I loved Delphine’s Timex watch, and the shows on TV, the music, and just so much else about this book.
I’m off to read more books by this author…