My second contribution to Diversiverse will hopefully be a discussion of this novel’s sequel, PS: Be Eleven, and I’ll get into what makes William-Garcia’s writing so great in more detail then. Suffice to say for now that both One Crazy Summer and PS: Be Eleven were reminders of why I have so little patience for “children’s literature is simplistic” type arguments. These novels are historically rich, but in a way that never weighs down the narrative; they’re politically engaged in subtle but effective ways; they’re consistently nuanced; they challenge simplistic narratives about the everyday reality of fighting for racial and gender equality; and they’re immensely fun to read.
A bit I especially liked:
It wasn’t at all the way television showed militants—that’s what they called the Black Panthers. Militants, who from the newspapers were angry first wavers with their mouths wide open and their riffles ready for shooting. They never showed anyone like Sister Mukumbu or Sister Pat, passing out toast and teaching in classrooms.For more on this novel, read Jodie’s excellent review at Lady Business.
Poetry slows us down, cherishes small details. A large disaster erases those details. We need poetry for nourishing and for noticing, for the way language and imagery reach comfortably into experience, holding and connecting it more successfully than any news channel we could name.The details are what makes 19 Varieties of Gazelle such a vivid and moving collection. Take, for example, these lines from “The Palestinians Have Given Up Parties”:
The bombs break everyone’s...Or the short poem “The Tray”:
sentences in half.
Who made them? Do you know anyone
who makes them? The ancient taxi driver
shakes his head back and forth
from Jerusalem to Jericho.
They will not see, he says slowly,
the story behind the story,
they are always looking for the story after the story
which means they will never understand the story.
Which means it will go on and on.
Even on a sorrowing dayAs I said back when I got this book, I had high expectations due to Shihab Nye’s poem “Gate A-4”. I’m happy to report I wasn’t in the least let down.
the little white cups without handles
filled with steaming hot tea
in a circle on the tray,
and whatever we were able
to say or not say,
the tray would be passed,
we would sip in silence,
it was another way
lips could be speaking together,
opening on the hot rim,
swallowing in unison.
Inside Out and Back Again is a quick read, but Lai manages to make Hà’s world feel fully realised. Through a series of key scenes and small but meaningful details, we get to know the emotional reality behind Hà’s experiences: her feelings about the home she leaves behind, her adjustment to the loss of her father, her struggles with the English language, what it feels like to go from the brightest student in her class to someone who’s routinely condescended to, etc. Lai combines humour and sadness to tell the story of a young girl’s transition to a new life.
I liked the following scene, where for the first time Hà tells an adult (her neighbour Miss Washington) about the bullying she’s had to endure at school. By then she’s had reasons to begin to suspect that well-meaning adults are not necessarily infinitely powerful, but there’s still relief in knowing she doesn’t have to face this alone.
How can I explain(Have you read any of these books? Let me know and I’ll be happy to link to you.)
dragonflies do summersaults
in my stomach
whenever I think of
the noisy room
full of mouths
chewing and laughing?
I’m still translating
when her eyes get red.
I’ll pack you a lunch
and you can eat at your desk.
No eat in class.
I’ll fix that.
Things will get better
just you wait.
I don’t believe her
but it feels good
that someone knows.