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Richie's Picks: P.S. BE ELEVEN

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  • peter_lake_2000
    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
    Message 1 of 1 , Aug 21, 2013
      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 it.
      "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 can.'
      "That was it."
      -- Cecile talking to Delphine in ONE CRAZY SUMMER
       
      "Now the time has come no place to run
      Might get burned up by the sun but I'll have my fun
      I've been loved and put aside I've been crushed
      By tumbling tides and my soul has been psychedelicized
      Now the time has come there are things to realize"
      -- The Chambers Brothers, "The Time Has Come Today (1968)
       
      "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 changed?
       
      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.
      "Sweetie.  Honey.
      "'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 Alabama.'"
       
      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 be?  
       
      I know from my own personal perspective what my decision would be if I were her.
       
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