Richie's Picks: P.S. BE ELEVEN by Rita
Williams-Garcia, Amistad, May 2013, 288p., ISBN: 978-0-06-193862-7
"She told me everything I wanted to know and too much.
It was too much. I'd have to take it out one piece at a time to look at
"She said, 'Did I leave because of a name? You'd have to
be grown first before I explained. If I told you now, it would just be
words. She picked up her screwdriver and went back to working on her
printer. 'Be eleven, Delphine. Be eleven while you
"That was it."
-- Cecile talking to Delphine in ONE CRAZY
"Now the time has come no place to run
Might get burned up by the sun but I'll have my
I've been loved and put aside I've been crushed
By tumbling tides and my soul has been
Now the time has come there are things to
-- The Chambers Brothers, "The Time Has Come Today
"Only days ago, Vonetta, Fern, and I were painting protest
signs and shouting, 'FREE HUEY!' and 'POWER TO THE PEOPLE!' Right now, the
last thing I had was any power at all. The only thing I had from being at
the People's Center with Sister Mukumba and Sister Pat was the word for the
opposite of power: Oppression. The power to do nothing but keep
my mouth shut.
"I let Big Ma go on and prayed my sisters wouldn't start
taking about the People's Center, the Black Panthers, our adventures in San
Francisco, and most of all, Cecile."
In ONE CRAZY SUMMER, the experience of spending a month in
Oakland with the mother they haven't seen since Fern was an
infant significantly transforms Delphine. But what does that then do
to her relationship with the father and paternal grandmother who are her primary
caregivers and who, in the case of their grandmother (Big Ma), has such a
negative opinion of their mother? How can Delphine reconcile her new
understandings with her old life in Bed-Stuy? How does she return to
the way things were before that month spent around the Black Panther Party,
before her enlightenment and transformation, as if nothing has
So many young people face challenges in their lives as the
result of their parents no longer being together, and their parents
having radically different expectations and belief systems. And this is
one of those places where there is such twenty-first century
significance and relevance to P.S. BE ELEVEN, a book set in 1968 which
literally takes up where ONE CRAZY SUMMER leaves off.
There is so much going on in P.S. BE ELEVEN. These days,
I happen to be living with an eleven year-old house mate, and am frequently
around her eleven year-old friends, so it doesn't require my thinking back to
1968, when my own sister was (just like Delphine) eleven, to recognize what a
significant developmental age this is for young women. This book
is, in so many ways, Delphine's coming of age story. But,
like ONE CRAZY SUMMER, this is also a stellar work of historical
fiction that immerses us in the world of 1968 America. One of the many things Rita Williams-Garcia does here
is to cleverly draw upon today's headlines to provide readers a glimpse of
those pre-Title IX days of being a woman in America:
"But Miss Marva Hendrix thought she was having a
discussion. She said, 'There's no better way to look out for families
than to make sure the government remembers the needs of children, women, and
poor people. Who better to speak for children than women?'
"'The men who take care of them,' Pa said without
hesitation. 'The men who put a roof over their heads. Food in their
mouths.' He stuck his fork in his potatoes.
"'I know, I know honey,' she said.
"'But sometimes men forget these things,' she said.
'They think about getting more, making their empires bigger, war.'
"'Tell it,' Uncle Darnell said.
"But Pa said, 'Some things gotta be.'
"'Some things gotta change,' she said back.
"They were talking to one another and not us.
"'If you ask me,' Big Ma said, 'they ought to stick to
teaching arithmetic in schools. Arithmetic. Home economics.
Reading and history. Not all this jaw-jerking about women running for
president. A woman for president. When pigs fly over
What a difference 45 years makes!
One thing that hasn't changed -- another one
that Williams-Garcia tackles here -- is drugs. Again,
absolute relevance for 2013.
When I finished reading ONE CRAZY SUMMER, I accepted the girls
flying home to their primary caregivers and going on with their lives. But
the insights that Williams-Garcia provides here, into the life and times of
Delphine Gaither, make me want to know this: If Delphine could choose
with which parent she'd prefer to live, what her decision would
I know from my own personal perspective what my decision
would be if I were her.