P. S. Be Eleven by Rita Williams-Garcia
Posted by: Cindy Dobrez and Lynn Rutan
Cindy: The Gaither sisters won our hearts in the Newbery Honor Book One Crazy Summer and now they are back in a sequel, P.S. Be Eleven (Amistad 2013). The year ahead for Delphine and her sisters looks to be just as crazy as they reenter their Bedford-Stuyvesant Brooklyn neighborhood fresh off an eye-opening summer in Oakland, California with their mother, Cecile. Delphine sees injustice and oppression everywhere, especially in Big Ma who is having none of the girls’ new found freedom and black power. They learn that their father’s happiness is tied to a new girl friend. Del harbors a longing for her parents to reunite after spending time with her estranged mother. She asks questions about their relationship in letters to Cecile, who has changed quite a bit from the beginning of One Crazy Summer. This mother is more gentle and more intuitive but she still does boundaries well. She lets Del know that there are limits to what she will answer, limits to what should cause Del to worry. Cecile ends her letters with some form of “P.S. Be Eleven.” It takes 12-year-old Del a while to understand what her mother is saying to her.
There are so many things to admire about this sequel, but I’m going to highlight just two and they intertwine. One is this issue about “being eleven.” The other is the sisters’ immediate infatuation with the Jackson 5. Oh do I remember my first view of Michael and his brothers dancing and singing on our console television. Michael’s smile was as wide as the screen. I can’t imagine what it was like for young African American kids to see the Jackson’s on television. If I had been the Gaither sisters with a chance to get tickets to see them live at Madison Square Gardens I would have worked as hard as they do to raise the money. As a tween I became a David Cassidy groupie, but Michael had more talent in his right glove than the whole of the Partridge Family. Delphine is not smitten with Michael like her sisters, she is crushing on the older brothers. The trajectory of this plot thread and its devastating resolution for the girls reinforces their slow passage to adulthood. These are two parents and a grandma who are doing the best they can to raise these girls to be responsible, to work hard, to handle disappointment, and to not grow up too quickly. To “be eleven.”