June 2013

Growing up too fast in the ’60s

By Rita Williams-Garcia
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When we last saw them, sisters Delphine, Vonetta and Fern were leaving Oakland after spending the summer with their mother. Now, in Rita Williams-Garcia’s P.S. Be Eleven, the sequel to the Newbery Honor-winning One Crazy Summer, we catch up with the Gaither sisters as they return to Brooklyn in 1968 and are reunited with Pa and Big Ma.

It doesn’t take long for the life lessons the sisters learned from their mother and the Black Panthers to clash mightily with the views of their grandmother, who wants to avoid creating a “grand Negro spectacle.” The oldest girl, Delphine, must find a way to live as her mother would want, while still respecting Pa and Big Ma, and keeping Vonetta and Fern out of trouble.

This balancing act becomes difficult very quickly. Soon after they arrive home, the sisters learn that their father is getting married. Vonetta and Fern love Miss Marva Hendricks right away, but Delphine wants to keep her distance. Adding to their struggle is Uncle Darnell, who returns home from the Vietnam War and lives with Pa, Big Ma and the girls as he fights his own internal battles. During all this, the girls stay in contact with their mother through letters—Delphine pouring out her heart, and her mother always ending her letters with a reminder to “Be Eleven.”

P.S. Be Eleven is a worthy successor to the unforgettable One Crazy Summer. The writing is just as powerful, and the story includes a convincing snapshot of the era, encompassing everything from the Civil Rights movement and Richard Nixon’s presidency to the beginnings of The Jackson 5. The story allows the girls to grow—learning new things, testing their ideals and discovering their true relationships with their mother and father, grandmother and many others. Williams-Garcia’s story offers a magnificent window into everyday life during the late 1960s and should not be missed.

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P.S. Be Eleven

P.S. Be Eleven

By Rita Williams-Garcia
ISBN 9780061938627

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