I loved One Crazy Summer by Rita Williams-Garcia, so I was excited to learn that her sequel, P.S. Be Eleven, was available for review. This story picks up where One Crazy Summer left off, with the three sisters – Delphine, Vonetta and Fern – returning to New York after spending the summer with their absentee mother. Just like in the last book, the girls still refuse to refer to this woman as their “mother” because she does not live with them. They call her by her name, Cecile. And just like in the last book, their relationship with Cecile is a bit rocky through the letters they send back and forth but there is also a certain closeness between them. And Delphine has a hard time understanding grown-up things that happen in this story, even though her dad tries to explain them to her, especially how her mother keeps saying “P.S. Be eleven” in her letters even after Delphine turns twelve.
When my daughter, who read One Crazy Summer, saw the cover for this book, she said, “They’re all grown up.” There’s a lot of growing up that definitely happens in this story. Sadly, for Delphine, she learns some hard facts about life that she struggles to explain to her younger sisters but she can’t. There’s her father’s new wife, her uncle’s PTSD and drug problem after returning from the war, political turmoil and her grandmother’s depression. Before all of this, Delphine had “grown-up” responsibilities in helping out around the house, but here she has to do them in order to keep things running in the house, once again playing the role of “mother hen” like she did in the first book. It’s like everything is falling apart all around her (and I have to recall the mention of Chinua Achebe’s book, Things Fall Apart, that’s in this story), and she tries her best to keep life normal.
But take heart: The girls definitely get to be “girls” in this story. There’s the episodes of them screaming and going crazy over the Jackson Five, Delphine attending her first dance and girl time Delphine has with her sisters or her grandmother or her friends. The kids all act their ages and it was sweet to see how the two younger sisters often banded together against Delphine. Times like that was when Delphine called them “Heckle and Jeckle.” The character Mr. Mwila was such an interesting and likable character, who made me chuckle over how he kept referring to the entire class or saying “decorum” when kids were acting up. His scene at the dance took me by surprise; I NEVER would have expected that from him!
I loved reading P.S. Be Eleven just as much as One Crazy Summer. It’s such a joy to watch these three sisters growing up and sharing their lives. I’m really hopeful there will be a third book.
When Delphine, Vonetta and Fern return from a stay with their mother in Oakland, they notice right away that something is different – about their father and about New York. Writing to their mother helps the girls adjust to changes somewhat. Soon the sisters are forced to accept their new definition of “family” and try to understand how so much about life is different.
Rita Williams-Garcia’s much-anticipated middle-grade novel P.S. Be Eleven is the sequel to her New York Times bestseller One Crazy Summer, a Newbery Honor Book and winner of the Coretta Scott King Award.
Eleven-year-old Brooklyn girl Delphine feels overwhelmed with worries and responsibilities. She’s just started sixth grade and is self-conscious about being the tallest girl in the class, and nervous about her first school dance. She’s supposed to be watching her sisters, but Fern and Vonetta are hard to control. Her uncle Darnell is home from Vietnam and seems different. And her pa has a girlfriend. At least Delphine can write to her mother in Oakland, California, for advice. But why does her mother tell her to “be eleven” when Delphine is now twelve?
The historical novel, set in the 1960s, features vivid characters, insight into family relationships, and a strong sense of place.