Gone Crazy in Alabama

Book review by
Terreece Clarke, Common Sense Media
Gone Crazy in Alabama Book Poster Image
Harrowing tale of Gaither girls' summer in the South.

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A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this book.

Educational Value

Descriptions of life and customs in the South for African-Americans in the 1960s. Historical references include Sputnik. Mentions of the white-supremacist hate group the Ku Klux Klan.

Positive Messages

Strong messages about the importance of coming together as a family when encountering obstacles; the difference in schools of Black thought at the time, including the feminist and Black Panther movements; traditional civil rights movements; and the uniting of communities.

Positive Role Models & Representations

The children show great compassion, empathy, and foresight even through their mistakes. Among the adults, those who are not traditionally viewed as good have redeeming value and positive contributions. 

Violence & Scariness

Instances of children fighting among themselves. An adult threatens children with corporal punishment, the Ku Klux Klan rides through town in a threatening manner, people are afraid of being lynched, a family's death by car accident is described, a little girl is hurt in a tornado.

Language

The "N" word is alluded to but not spelled out in the book. Children tease one another and call one another names, as do adult siblings.

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that Rita Williams-Garcia's 2016 Coretta Scott King Author Book Award-winning Gone Crazy in Alabama is a companion book to One Crazy Summer and P.S. Be Eleven, in which the Gaither sisters, Delphine, Vonetta, and Fern, go from Brooklyn to Alabama for the summer to visit their grandmother and great-grandmother. Some strong themes will be great points for discussion and include sibling rivalry, death in families, and racial injustice. The story takes place on a farm, so there's discussion of eating animals and an instance when a little girl is hurt in a tornado. It's mentioned that a family was killed in a car accident and that a known Ku Klux Klan member uses the "N" word (though the word is never spelled out in the book).

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What's the story?

The Gaither sisters are headed down South alongside hundreds of other New York kids for the summer. Leaving their neighborhood, father, and pregnant stepmother behind, Delphine, Vonetta, and Fern spend the summer in Alabama to visit relatives and find that farm life is far more complicated than it initially appears. Estranged family, sibling rivalry, and a horrible tragedy bring secrets, love, and devotion to life. The biggest question is: Will the girls survive going crazy in Alabama?

Is it any good?

In GONE CRAZY IN ALABAMA, Rita Williams-Garcia does a fantastic job of welcoming readers into the intimate life of the Gaither family. The story has great pacing, at times moving languidly like the slow summers of the South, then switching to breakneck speed when the action demands it. The characters are engaging, fun, and frustrating, just like families in real life.

Kids and families alike will love how well Williams-Garcia portrays the intricacies of family dynamics and the human spirit. No one is all bad or all good, and though family members may not react the way readers expect or want, they are loving and supportive in their own way.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about the realities of sibling rivalry and how it's portrayed in the media. Does the interaction among the sisters in Gone Crazy in Alabama seen realistic?

  • Families also can talk about oral histories and traditions. What are your favorite stories about your family that you've learned?

  • How are the civil rights movement and the Black Lives Matter movement different? How are they similar? Use examples from the book.

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