Gone Crazy in Alabama by Rita Williams-Garcia. April 21, 2015. Amistad. 304 pages. Ages 8-12. 2016 Coretta Scott King Award Winner.
The three Gaither sisters are sent by Greyhound bus from Brooklyn, New York, to visit their relatives in Alabama for the summer of 1969. The oldest, Delphine, tries to look after the younger two, but Vonetta and Fern have minds of their own.
Once in Alabama, they become reacquainted with their grandmother Big Ma, their great-grandmother Ma Charles, their uncle Darnell, and cousin JimmyTrotter and must adapt to life in the South during the turbulent Sixties. They soon begin to learn about family secrets, and why Ma Charles doesn't speak to her half-sister Miss Trotter that lives next door.
The girls get caught up in both the ancient family feud between the matriarchs, and in feuding amongst themselves, as well as adjusting to the news that their father and new step-mother are expecting a baby. However, tragedy strikes, ultimately bringing all of the extended family members together, even their estranged mother Cecile. They all realize that while they may have their squabbles, fights, and craziness, family is what matters.
This is a wonderful, rich story with many layers that presents the realities of life for many black families during the late Sixties, when the South was still far behind the rest of the country in civil rights and freedom. This story deals with so many issues; civil rights, feminism, blended families, absentee parents, family feuds and grudges, tragedy, having to adapt to different realities, and more, but puts it all in the completely believable and relatable context of the Gaither sisters' extended and complicated family. While the story deals with serious issues, it is told with heart and a touch of humor, which makes it a truly enjoyable read. No doubt these are complicated issues, but it is told from a child's viewpoint and serves to provide a rich context and background for the central story about sisters and family.
I fell in love with all of the characters, but especially Ma Charles, who was never afraid to tell it like it is and kept everyone in line. I enjoyed the complex family history and the on-going feud, with everyone coming together in the end. I have not read the previous two books in this trilogy, which I now regret. I enjoyed this one so much I will definitely go back and read the first two. I would recommend this to anyone interested in reading historical fiction about this era, particularly as seen from a child's point of view. Obviously I would recommend this book to anyone who enjoyed either of the first two books, but also to anyone who could related to the special relationship among sisters, and extended families.
I would probably skew the suggested age range just a little higher, maybe more like 8-14. Younger children might not quite understand some of the broader issues, but it would not prevent them from enjoying the central story, while older kids would appreciate all the details.
Other Books by This Author
The first book about the Gaither sisters, One Crazy Summer, tells about the summer Delphine, Vonetta, and Fern traveled to Oakland, California to visit their estranged mother, Cecile, who abandoned them when they were little. It was a Newbery Honor Book, a Coretta Scott King award winner, and a National Book Award Finalist, as well as winning the Scott O'Dell Award for Historical Fiction. The second book in the trilogy, P.S. Be Eleven, also won the Coretta Scott King Award.
Rita Williams-Garcia has also written several books for teens and a picture book for preschoolers.