Sunday, July 7, 2013

P.S. Be Eleven

Rita Williams-Garcia is a master of voice as seen in her newest Middle Grade Novel P.S. Be Eleven, the sequel to her Newbery Honor Book One Crazy Summer. 

There are books for young people set in the sixties and seventies, but not from the point of view of an African-American girl. I loved the way RGW shows the reader through humor what being a black child in the sixties might have been like.

There is a lot going on in this novel. The three sisters, Delphine, the main character, and her younger sisters Vonetta and Fern live in New York with their grandmother, Big Ma, and their father, Louis. Their mother, Cecile is a political activist and poet living across the country in San Francisco.

Some of the clever humor in this book springs from the belief in America, codified in Jim Crow, that black people must go out of their way to be always courteous to white people no matter what.

Big Ma believes that "grand negro spectacle,"meaning black people drawing attention to themselves, must be avoided at all times. But as this novel opens, three little black girls traveling on an airplane cross country alone absolutely do cause a huge "negro spectacle," all because the youngest desperately needs to go to the bathroom just after the plane lands. "Gotta, gotta," Fern says, and Delphine has to find a toilet  (and fast!), angering stewardesses and inconveniencing all sorts of persnickety white people who get in the girls' way.

Where does the humor spring? It springs from the gap between the harsh reality of the rules that dictate black people be invisible in public, and the indomitable spirits of these sisters who will be themselves, do what they need to do, take care of business, no matter who or what gets in the way.

What was it like for kids of color, like Delphine, Vonetta and Fern to be always told, as they were in the sixties, not to make a spectacle, and to never annoy white people. Through her story, RGW shows us, giving teachers and parents an entertaining platform for discussion about racial prejudice and it's evolution since the sixties.

1 comment:

  1. Rita's awesome! I need to read this. I loved One Crazy Summer.