Although my only encounter with the Black Panthers was on the TV news, my childhood was roughly contemporaneous with that of Delphine, heroine of Rita Williams-Garcia’s One Crazy Summer, so I feel old age tapping me on the shoulder when I think about that book as “historical fiction.” It is, though, and as distant to the experience of today’s children as my parents’ childhood in the Depression was to me. But the Depression was also close at hand — we would hear about it frequently at mealtimes and holidays and be cautioned to appreciate what we had rather than to complain about what we didn’t. The past is always reaching into the present, itself always becoming the past.
Historical fiction is not only one excellent way to explain our parents (or grandparents) to ourselves, it can also explain ourselves to ourselves, allowing readers to consider what they might have done, or how they might have been different, in circumstances unlike their own. We don’t read historical fiction to find out “what it was like back then” so much as to get a fresh look at who we are now. And if I want to take another look at who I was then? All I have to do is remember what I was reading.
Editor in Chief