P.S. Be Eleven

Book review by
Terreece Clarke, Common Sense Media
P.S. Be Eleven Book Poster Image
Tween coming-of-age set amid shifting family, '60s dynamics.

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

Educational Value

P.S. Be Eleven provides information on post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), the Black Power movement, and popular literature and social changes of the 1960s. The author humanizes these topics by showing them through the main characters' lives. Readers see how these issues affect the narrator and those she loves.

Positive Messages

Ultimately, the novel presents strong, likeable characters that, while flawed, have an inherent sense of good. Overall, the characters have strong moral compasses and redeeming qualities that illustrate the depth of human understanding and the ability to view others with compassion and forgiveness.

Positive Role Models & Representations

No one in P.S. Be Eleven is perfect, but the adults and children in the book embody a wonderful array of positive attributes. They are hard-working, loyal, thoughtful, resourceful, and willing to right wrongs.


The violence in P.S. Be Eleven mainly involves corporal punishment, schoolyard fights, and mentions of the Vietnam War. Throughout the book, adults spank, smack, or threaten to spank and smack children. A child is whipped with a switch (thin tree branch or reed), smacked in the face, and is worried about being paddled by school administrators. A girl describes beating up boys for teasing her, and a soldier is confronted by anti-war sentiment and accusations that he killed poor villagers in Vietnam.


There are several kissing scenes involving adults who are dating and later married. Sixth grade boy-girl crushes are discussed, and there's some boyfriend/girlfriend talk. A girl briefly discusses -- without much detail -- watching her mother go into labor and give birth to her sister on the kitchen floor.


Mild name calling occurs throughout the book. There are instances of black people being called "negro," which is not uncommon for the time period in which the book takes place.


The Jackson Five is mentioned several times, and a few clothing stores, including Macy's, are also mentioned. But, theses serve to set the scene, not as a promotion of brands.

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

One character becomes addicted to drugs after returning home from fighting in the Vietnam War. He's described as sleeping most of the day, irritable, and ends up stealing from someone to support his habit. A student calls the character a "dope fiend." The children in the book do not see the man using drugs, but they do witness the side effects.

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that P.S. Be Eleven is a sequel to Rita Williams-Garcia's popular One Crazy Summer, and like it is set in the turbulent late 1960s. There are are discussions about race, politics, war, and dating throughout. There are also instances of corporal punishment, bullying, and drug use. While no one is seen using drugs, kids do witness the side effects of drug use, including moodiness, loss of appetite, and irrational behavior.

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What's the story?

Delphine and her sisters, Vonetta and Fern, come back to Brooklyn after spending the summer with their estranged poet mother, Celine, and face a world that's changing every day. They discover their father's new girlfriend, gain a better but unorthodox relationship with their mother, and long for the return of the man their uncle used to be before the war. Will Delphine ever learn to worry less and just "be eleven"?

Is it any good?

Rita Williams-Garcia's follow-up to the award-winning One Crazy Summer is a rich and detailed novel with well-rounded characters. William-Garcia lets the characters evolve without fitting into tidy sterotypes. The three girls feel like kids you would find in any neighborhood in America. 

This is also a wonderful book to help bring to life what it was like to grow up in a time with so much societal change. While the issues at hand may be different -- different wars, different societal constraints being challenged, etc. -- P.S. BE ELEVEN offers many parallels with what's happening in today's society. Minority groups still struggle to have their voices heard, middle school is still a hotbed of akwardness and rivalry, war still sends home wounded soldiers who struggle long after the bandages come off, and parents still strive to connect with their kids. Readers easily identify with the characters and their daily struggles and triumphs, making this a classic for the home library.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about the difference between our era and the 1960s. While the times and issues are different, how does this book mirror what is happening in the world today?

  • Delphine's mother Celine always signs her letters "P.S. Be Eleven." Why did Celine need to remind Delphine to enjoy being 11 years old? Do you ever feel pressure to behave older than you are? Can you point to shows, books, video games where kids dress and act older than their age?

  • Do you or anyone you know have to split your time between two parents' homes? What kinds of challenges does this situation present? What challenges cause Delphine to struggle?

Book details

Our editors recommend

For kids who love strong female characters

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