P.S. Be Eleven Review

ps_be_elevenP.S. Be Eleven by Rita Williams-Garcia

Amistad, 2013. 978-0061938627

Winner of the 2014 Coretta Scott King Book Award

Synopsis: Delphine and her sisters can’t wait to get home and tell Big Ma and Papa all about their adventures in Oakland with Cecile. But when they arrive back in Brooklyn, Delphine senses something is…different. The things the girls learned in Oakland from the Black Panthers aren’t seen as polite behavior by Big Ma. Papa has a new girlfriend that he wants to marry. Then there’s the fact that Uncle Darnell is coming back from the war. Seeking advice from Cecile, Delphine writes to her mother in hopes that she will have some guidance to offer her daughter. The only response she receives is a cryptic postscript: “Be eleven”. What does that even mean? How is Delphine supposed to be something she already is?

Why I picked it up: The author was signing books at a library conference and the title intrigued me.

Why I finished it: This book hit home for me on a number of different levels, namely on the subjects of how we relate to our family members and how we deal with changes that can seem sudden. Delphine is struggling to maintain a sense of normalcy even though she feels like the world is starting to fall apart: she’s not thrilled with her father’s new girlfriend, the kids at school don’t seem like the same people they were the year before, and she still has to look out for her sisters despite the fact that they are growing up as well. Delphine’s confusion at her mother’s advice to ‘be eleven’ is understandable, but as a reader it broke my heart because as hard as Delphine is trying to be grown, she’s forgetting to be a child. She’s putting her adult-like desires before the little excitements that come with being in the sixth grade. It is pointed out to her that her desire to look out for her sisters is repressing them, a comment that initially doesn’t sit well with Delphine until she begins to see for herself just how much she does for them. Set against the backdrop of the late 1960s, Garcia-Williams creates for the reader a lovingly contrasted picture to the one created in One Crazy Summer. While politics do not seem as heavy-handed in this sequel, the tensions still run high in regards to both the issue of race and the war in Vietnam, something touched upon by the return of Delphine’s uncle. It’s this almost invisible commentary on how the war affected our loved ones that provides more of a discussion into the end of the decade. This story is well-crafted and moving, providing the reader with another chance to hear about Delphine, Vonetta, and Fern, their family, and their journey toward becoming the strong individuals the reader knows they will be.

Other related materials: One Crazy Summer by Rita Williams-Garcia; Like Sisters on the Homefront by Rita Williams-Garcia; Inside Out and Back Again by Thanhha Lai; Brown Girl Dreaming by Jacqueline Woodson; Claudette Colvin: Twice Toward Justice by Phillip Hoose; Let it Shine: Stories of Black Women Freedom Fighters by Andrea Davis Pinkney, illustrated by Stephen Alcorn; Hand in Hand: Ten Black Men Who Changed America by Andrea Davis Pinkney, illustrations by Brian Pinkney; Revolution by Deborah Wiles; Countdown by Deborah Wiles; The Crossover by Kwame Alexander

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