Review of P.S. Be Eleven, by Rita Williams-Garcia

P.S. Be Eleven

by Rita Williams-Garcia

Amistad (HarperCollins), 2013. 274 pages.

P.S. Be Eleven is a sequel to the brilliant, multiple-award-winning One Crazy Summer. We get to see Delphine and her two younger sisters when they go home to their Pa and their grandmother, Big Ma.

They write to their mother, whom they left back in Oakland. The title comes from her letters to Delphine, the tag on the end. I commented in my review of the earlier book, “It wrenches my heart to hear of kids being forced to take on the responsibilities of a parent when they should just be a kid.” Cecile (their mother) is a fine one to tell Delphine to “be eleven,” since it was pretty much her fault Delphine was forced to mother her younger siblings all summer. Though I can’t help but be glad someone’s telling her to.

In this book, she deals with more ordinary, though interesting, eleven-year-old things. School friendships and rivalries. A new teacher, on an exchange program from Zambia. Trying to earn money to go to a Jackson Five concert. The sixth-grade dance. Their Pa is thinking about marrying and giving them a stepmother. Their Uncle Darnell is coming back from Vietnam.

I came to love these three girls in the first book, so I was glad to read on. But I have to admit this book doesn’t feel nearly as momentous and important as One Crazy Summer. There, they were taken up with big events, getting involved with good work the Black Panthers were doing. In P.S. Be Eleven, the events are more ordinary slice-of-life. That’s good for our characters, because we want Delphine to get to be a kid, but it doesn’t make for as dramatic a book.

And the plot did take some turns I didn’t like. Which isn’t necessarily a weakness. I’m just saying it’s not as happy a story as I might have hoped. I didn’t get some of the actions the adults took. Why did Pa react to their disappointment in the way he did? Why did Big Ma suddenly make a big change? And the story involving Uncle Darnell is just plain sad.

The book isn’t as unified as the first, taking place over half a school year instead of a summer. The events don’t all flow together as well.

Bottom line, I was happy to again spend time with these girls. I’m going to continue to strongly recommend One Crazy Summer, and those who want more will, like me, happily take up the next book. I’m glad that Delphine is learning to be a kid, going from Eleven to Twelve.

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Source: This review is based on a library book from Fairfax County Public Library.

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