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Circle Time February 2015 Schedule

2015 Local Artists’ Exhibit
This year the Local Artists’ Exhibition will begin on February 2.  If you or an artist you know is interested in showing works at the library, come in to pick […]

Newsletter 1/29/15

Booklist Review of the Day

Gone Crazy in Alabama.

Williams-Garcia, Rita (author).
Apr. 2015. 304p. Amistad, hardcover, $16.99 (9780062215871). Grades 5-8.
REVIEW. First published February 1, 2015 (Booklist).

Readers of One Crazy Summer (2010) and P.S. Be Eleven (2013) have spent quality time with the Gaither sisters, Delphine, Vonetta, and Fern, in both Brooklyn and Oakland. Now, in this final installment of the trilogy, the girls are Alabama-bound to visit with grandmother Big Ma and the rest of the kin.

By now, the girls know that family can mean entanglements—the saga of the Gaither-Trotter clans is nothing but knots—and two of the folks involved are happy to keep the families squabbling: the girls’ great-grandmother, Ma Charles, and Ma Charles’ sister across the creek, Great-Aunt Trotter. The trouble began when the greats were girls of the same age and discovered that they shared a father. Now they trade eggs and milk, but mostly barbs, and when the Gaither sisters hit the Alabama countryside, the ladies have three new go-betweens, especially the overacting Vonetta, who takes great satisfaction in delivering the messages with uncanny mimicry, stirring the pot to a boil.

And there is more family trouble brewing. Big Ma’s contempt for the girls’ mother, Cecile, hasn’t diminished, and she’s not particularly fond of their stepmother, who’s pregnant with her fourth grandchild. Vonetta has not forgiven her uncle Darnell, who stole her Jackson Five concert money in the previous book (though he’s cleaned up his act), and the sniping and one-upmanship between the girls continues to be well tuned and well timed. It’s not until a near tragedy occurs that the family sees that the strands that weave them together can make them stronger just as easily as they can pull them apart.

Family also comes into the story through Williams-Garcia’s aim to explain the complex intertwined tree of southerners—African Americans, whites, and Native Americans—of which the Gaither-Trotter clan is a representative example. Some readers will certainly be unsettled by the story of the greats’ grandfather, who escaped slavery, was taken in by a Creek tribe, and married a Creek woman. by whom he had 11 children, only to be sold off (along with some of his children) by his in-laws.

Even more puzzling to youngsters will be the character of the town’s sheriff, another Charles, who is law officer by day, Klansman by night—and yet still calls Ma Charles by the endearment “Mama.” This element could have used more explanation, but throughout the series, Williams-Garcia (rather like Cecile with her daughters) has always steered far clear of condescending to her readers. Whether the subject at hand is the Black Panthers, the Vietnam War, or race relations, she always tells her very human story; and then, how much more deeply readers want to delve into the story’s current or historical events is up to them.

At the heart of all this family interaction remain the Gaither girls. Narrator Delphine, almost 13, still feels the responsibility of being the oldest, but now her challenge is to loosen the reins on sisters who are also getting older and coming more deeply into their own selves. Her narrator’s voice continues to be strong and true. Here we see where she gets it: from a great-grandmother and great-aunt who sit on their porches and tell stories that patch together triumphs, heartaches, and family history, and from Cecile, one of the most unique mothers in children’s literature, who is tied to her own truth and tells it, whatever the consequences. If this is good-bye to Delphine, Vonetta, and Fern, it’s a worthy one, though readers would hardly mind if, in the words of the relatives’ “Southern good-bye,” they would see the girls again, “real soon.”

— Ilene Cooper