“We all have our la-la-la song. The thing we do when the world isn’t singing a nice tune to us. We sing our own nice tune to drown out ugly.”
Synopsis from Goodreads: Eleven-year-old Delphine has it together. Even though her mother, Cecile, abandoned her and her younger sisters, Vonetta and Fern, seven years ago. Even though her father and Big Ma will send them from Brooklyn to Oakland, California, to stay with Cecile for the summer. And even though Delphine will have to take care of her sisters, as usual, and learn the truth about the missing pieces of the past.
When the girls arrive in Oakland in the summer of 1968, Cecile wants nothing to do with them. She makes them eat Chinese takeout dinners, forbids them to enter her kitchen, and never explains the strange visitors with Afros and black berets who knock on her door. Rather than spend time with them, Cecile sends Delphine, Vonetta, and Fern to a summer camp sponsored by a revolutionary group, the Black Panthers, where the girls get a radical new education.
Feelings: This is a book that we read for our book club at school. The focus this year is on diverse books, allowing some of us to see through different windows of life, courtesy of YA literature. This book definitely shows a welcome side of history. We see the Black Panthers as a group that cared for the children in their community, including feeding them and providing a safe space for them to learn about their culture. We see a hint of the violence that history paints, but it’s just there enough to show that the author wasn’t trying to glaze over the past. Instead, she narrows her focus.
I really enjoyed the author’s writing style and the voice that she gave to Delphine. She had so much heart and personality in what felt like a short story. I kept forgetting how young she was! I especially enjoyed the author’s word choice and the way she painted history.
I think one of this story’s strengths was the way the author delicately balances a lot of topical issues. We see family and abandonment, racism and sexism, poverty and more. But this book isn’t really about ONE of these, it’s about all of them…it’s about life. It’s about how our environments shape us AND it’s about how our environments don’t have to define us. There’s a lot going on.
Issues: While I enjoyed the writing, and I think there was a lot going on…I still got to the end and felt like nothing really had happened. Weird, right? They spend a month with their mother and go on a couple of adventures, learning about themselves along the way, but what was the heart of the story? What was the climax? It’s more like a portrait than a novel. We have feelings and emotions when we see it, it opens a door of understanding that we may not have been prone to otherwise, but there isn’t action. There’s no central driving force.
Final thoughts: I liked this story and I’m glad I read it, but it’s not one that I’ll rave about and press into people’s hands. It gave me a lot of new views about history, which I’m grateful for, and it was special that it was through the eyes of a child.
Goodreads rating: 3.93/5
Amazon.com rating: 4.5/5
My rating: 3.5/5
Happy reading! – Caitlyn