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9780062215871_p0_v1_s192x300I used to open every box of children’s books for review that arrived at my library…but it’s not my direct job anymore, and I had to let go of the micro-managerial (and selfish!) urge to be the first to get my hands on everything.   So it was that I only got to read GONE CRAZY IN ALABAMA recently, taking my turn in the hold list, because this one is HOT.

Knowing this is our last time with these sisters, and hearing only modest praise online and from my colleagues (much of what has been heard at Jonathan’s post this week), I lowered my expectations, opened the covers, and prepared myself for just some good company.

What I found, though, was one of the best books I’ve ever read, so I have to pull this one out from those Jonathan mentioned this week for a little more discussion.  The pacing and arc on this one different than the other two books, with the girls settling in to the atmosphere down south, observing and regarding the difference between Ma Charles and Miss Trotter, and trying to understand what is going on there.  This may be slow for plot-driven readers, but I think this is really the point of the book, and honestly, by the time Cecile arrives most of the good stuff is behind us.  From there on out Delphine’s realizations start to crystalize, but every single one has been seeded earlier in the book, through character-driven narrative.

This book feels like exactly where this trilogy needs to wind up, with Delphine seeing back to the beginning, or as far as she can, with her family.  She begins to understand and make room for the contradictions in her grandmother, a product of Jim Crow who has compartmentalized strategies for staying alive, and for being true to one’s self and heritage.   Delphine starts to better understand the generational divides she lives with, what is making the Black power and women’s movements so tumultuous, and why what she experiences as current culture is so divisive in her family. Still a girl, she’s set at a crossroads ready to become a Black woman, with an amazing array of different kinds of role models before her, and a better understanding of the reasons she loves each of them, and also why each one drives her absolutely nuts.

There is no one else writing like Rita Williams-Garcia.  The fact that she achieves this story with such realism in characters, with such humor, without stating the obvious or over-explaining, is distinguished in itself.  What she has to tell us is such a huge part of many readers’ lives, and I’ve never seen it dealt with in this depth, with this realism, and this level of just remarkable storytelling, for a child audience before.   Through the trilogy readers essentially experience the story of the Great Migration in reverse, and now I understand why we have to leave the Gaither sisters here.


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