Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Becoming Naomi Leon

by Pam Munoz Ryan

Thumbs Up.

Set in a San Diego area community and also in Oaxaca, Mexico, this book tells the story of two children, Naomi and her brother, Owen, and their great-grandma, Gram. The conflict is the return of the children's unstable mother, Skyla, and Skyla's desire for Naomi to live with her.

Throughout the story, as the title implies, Naomi grows into her name,  finding the lion within herself.  It's a coming of age story, wrought with challenges, tears and triumphs.  Yes, it is a tear jerker.  But beautifully so.  It is not the kind of sob story that leaves a reader feeling dragged down or run over.  It is uplifting and joyful.

The plot is colorful.  I want to use the word sensual to describe it, but only meaning that the writing affects one's senses.  The descriptions are very nicely done so that a reader can see, hear and even smell what the characters are living through.

The characters are true to themselves and very likable. More importantly, the author has imbued them with a nobility of spirit that comes through as the characters deal with some very hard things.

It's always nice when an author is able to pique a reader's interest in new things.  While reading, I had to periodically sit down at the computer to learn more about jacaranda trees and Oaxaca's Noche de Rabanos or Night of the Radishes, for example. 

I especially liked that the author showed kids who did not have everything and were not "cool" in the mainstream sense.  They didn't always like this, and sometimes it made them uncomfortable or even unhappy.  When Skyla entered their lives, she preyed upon their material desires by buying them many new things.  But in the end, it was the love of Gram and other adult role models that pulled them through, not the material things they may have thought they wanted.  When presented with an opportunity, Naomi, Owen and Gram gave generously to those who had more meager possessions than they themselves.  It offers a great value lesson.

Ms Munoz Ryan also wrote the award winning, Esperanza Rising, another great story.

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