When I first heard there was to be a sequel to the wonderful One Crazy Summer, I squealed, just like Vonetta is wont to do. It is one of the most highly decorated middle grade titles of the last ten years and deservedly so. To see why I loved this book so much, click here.
P.S. Be Eleven begins on the plane, when Delphine, Fern and Vonetta are returning home to New York after spending ‘one crazy summer’ with their free-spirited activist mother. But one can never come home again, as Delphine discovers that things have changed in her absence over the summer. Delphine is surprised to find that her beloved father has a girlfriend and can’t make heads or tails of her uncle’s strange behaviour.
This book is as close to bottled adolescence as you can get. Delphine’s instant love for The Jackson Five and her unmitigated glee when they come on the radio is so charming and realistic I can barely stand it. I want to reach through the pages and squeeze her cheeks. Just as authentic is her distrust of Miss Marva Hendrix, her father’s love interest, and her deep love but disappointment in her loved Uncle Darnell who is back from Vietnam and not the man he was before.
The classroom scenes are my favourite. They are vividly and hilariously rendered. Group dynamics, especially among children, can be extremely hard to convey but RWC does this with ease. It helps that every single student and their teacher have such distinct personalities, even in the brief, shining glimpses we get of them.
While in no way a history lesson, Rita Williams-Garcia* is able to bring history to life through vivid, imperfect but lovable characters who readers can relate to, despite having little (or no) historical context. Fiction is a great means to learn history. Case in point, I have read exactly one work of nonfiction on WWII but have read innumerable fictional novels set in the era. Williams-Garcia touches on Vietnam, civil rights, racism, drugs, poverty and feminism without ever straying from Delphine’s hilarious and unforgettable voice.
P.S. Be Eleven can be read as a standalone, but do yourself a favour and read One Crazy Summer first. One can never have enough Delphine in her life. Fans of Susin Nielsen, Judy Blume, Beverly Cleary, Gordon Korman and my books (ahem) will love reading about these unforgettable sisters.
P.S. Be Eleven is available in hard cover from HarperCollins.
*Rita Williams-Garcia is all kinds of awesome. Check out this great Q&A from the Indigo Kids Blog.