Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Gone Crazy in Alabama by Rita Williams-Garcia

Fictionally speaking, a little more than a year has passed since we last visited with the Gaither sisters, Delphine, 12, Vonetta, 10, and Fern, 8.  The girls are still living in the house on Herkimer Street in Brooklyn, NY.  Their dad has remarried, but their stepmother has been pretty sick lately, especially in the morning.  So now, the girls are off for the summer to visit Big Ma, Uncle Darnell, Ma Charles, their great grandmother and Caleb, the hound dog in Alabama - by Greyhound (remember, it's 1969, people did that then).

Everyone is glad to see the girls down there, but Vonetta is still angry at Uncle D for what he did with the money they had saved for Jackson Five tickets.  But that's not the only grudge in town.   There's not much going on at Ma Charles's house - no working TV, no radio - and after Delphine puts her foot down about washing, starching and ironing her great grandmother's cotton sheets, each day the girls cross the creek to hang out with their Cousin JimmyTrotter, 15, and his great grandmother, Miss Trotter, Ma Charles's sister Ruth.

Ma Charles and Miss Trotter have a long standing rivalry going on and quickly discover that Vonetta is the perfect person to carry their mean-spirited insults and messages back and forth across the creek each day.  But as the barbs keep flying, unknown family history is revealed to the girls, going back to the days of slavery, to hard times under Jim Crow and segregation and their Native Indian connection, along with some other real surprises in the family tree, including a white cousin in the KKK.

Indeed, it feels like Delphine's family is fractured no matter where she looks.  Rita Williams-Garcia has written about family in each of the novels about the Gaither sisters.  Each book exposes a new layer of family relationships and the way she has captured the different familial problems and relationships has been really spot on.  In fact, when the reader begins to see the similarity of the great-grandmother's long-standing squabbling with each other reflected in the same kind of bickering that takes place between Delphine and Vonetta, it's easy to wonder if this will be their destiny, too.

But when Uncle D keeps forgetting to bring home milk for Vonetta's cereal, she decides to go get it herself.  Riding Cousin JimmyTrotter's bike to town, she is unaware of the tornado heading her way and Delphine is frantic to find her.  Will the destruction that the tornado causes be the healing catalyst that pulls this family back together again?

Once more, Williams-Garcia has written a book that is a delight to read and it does work as a stand alone novel, though I think that reading all three novels is the better way to go.  And, like the previous two books, One Crazy Summer and P.S. Be Eleven, Gone Crazy in Alabama is also narrated in the first person by Delphine.  This is definitely Delphine's coming of age story,  She has always been an astute observer, and the arbiter of reality for her younger sisters when necessary, even if they do gang up and pay no attention to her, but there is a new budding maturity now.

One of the thing that Williams-Garcia is genius at doing is creating full-bodied, totally distinctive characters, and I don't mean just Delphine, Vonetta and Fern.  Ma Charles, Big Ma, Cousin JimmyTrotter, Uncle D, even Caleb singing his dog song have so much depth to them, regardless of the size of the part they play in this story.

Even time and place are as much characters in the Gaither sisters trilogy as girls and their relatives are.  The late 1960s was an eventual period - civil rights, Black Panthers, Women's Liberation, the Apollo moon walk and Williams-Garcia has managed to seamlessly get it all into her books without sounding the least bit forced.

The only down side of Gone Crazy in Alabama is that it is the last time we will meet the Gaither sisters, otherwise this is a wonderful trilogy and Gone Crazy in Alabama is not to be missed.

This book is recommended for readers age 9+
This book was an EARC received from Edelweiss/Above the Treeline


  1. Hi Alex, I love all the names, especially Big Ma and Ma Charles (it reminds me of The Waltons) and Caleb is a wonderful name for a hound dog. I really want to read this and the two previous books in the series but honestly my must-read list is just so long. Still, I can’t resist I will have to add them. Thanks for another super review. Barbara.

  2. This sounds like a really good series, Alex, and I just love this cover! I mean, look at those characters---and the chickens! :D


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