for: ages 9-12/middle grades
Amistad/Harper Collins, 2010
It's the summer of 1968 and Delphine and her two younger sisters, Vonetta and Fern, are going to spend it in Oakland California with the mother that abandoned them seven years before. We join them on their flight from New York, where they've left Pa and his mother, Big Ma, who have raised them. They have no idea what to expect. And neither do we!
Told in the first person by Delphine, we see the world through her eyes. She's in charge of her sisters, and there's a definite "pecking" order. They squabble. They love each other fiercely. They communicate without words. And Delphine takes care of them unlike your usual 11 year-old might. Because she has to take care of them - their mother barely speaks to them and has them fending for themselves, for the most part. They are sent to a local day camp run by the Black Panthers. Power to the people. And so the summer unfolds.
The setting is superb - the bay area of California during the summer of 1968. The characters are, for the most part, well drawn. There's a bit of insight into the Black Panther movement and what it might have been like to be black in the 60's. Delphine talks a lot about this - with the freedom - and the inside knowledge - that non-blacks could never know. It gave me a taste. A good taste. It was a good story. A great piece of historical fiction. But I'll never understand the mother. Never. I might understand what may have made her WANT to abandon her kids. But that she did, and her reaction to them all these years later left me cold. I can't like her because I don't get her. Would I get her if I let myself? I'm not sure....
Fuse 8 does an in-depth, interesting review. And here's the KidsReads review that first told me about the book. If you want more summary information, these sites will fill the bill.