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Becoming Naomi León

by Pam Muñoz Ryan


Publishers Weekly :

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Fifth-grader Naomi's great-grandmother has been a loving guardian for Naomi and Owen, her handicapped brother, since their mother divorced their father and abandoned them in Lemon Tree, Calif., seven years before. When the children's mother, Skyla, makes a sudden reappearance, she wants Naomi to leave Gram and Owen to move to Las Vegas—and Gram fears that Skyla and her new boyfriend have ulterior motives. "What locked the possibility of catastrophe in my mind, was that Gram and Fabiola were going to miss Wheel of Fortune, and that was going to mess up their 744 nights-in-a-row record," Naomi thinks. Feisty Gram takes action: she and Fabiola and her husband, who hail from Oaxaca City, Mexico, and who knew the children's father, take the children and embark on an odyssey of sorts, in search of their father at Oaxaca's annual radish-carving festival. Once again, Ryan (Esperanza Rising) crystallizes the essence of settings and characters through potent, economic prose. Through Naomi's first-person narration, the author gently captures the girl's simultaneous attraction to and wariness of her mother with Naomi's first impression: "I couldn't take my eyes off her lipstick. It was the exact same color as her hair and went up and down in a perfect rounded M on her top lip." And the heroine's skill with carving connects her to her father long before they finally meet. Sharing her protagonist's love of language, artistic sensibility and keen sensitivity, Ryan creates a tender tale about family love and loyalty. Ages 8-12.

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School Library Journal :

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Gr 5-8–Gram, Naomi, and Owen are happy at Avocado Acres Trailer Rancho until the day the children's mother arrives. After being gone so long that they don't recognize her, Skyla enters their lives, lavishing attention and presents on fifth-grade Naomi; however, she never seems to include Owen. After several weeks, the truth about her reappearance becomes apparent. Clive, her new boyfriend, wants Naomi to live with them and become the permanent baby-sitter for his daughter. The ensuing custody battle forces Gram, Naomi, Owen and a neighbor couple to make a hasty trip to Mexico to look for Santiago, the children's biological father and a well-known wood-carver. After a physically and emotionally exhausting search, they finally find him at the annual Christmas festival in their ancestral village. Even though the children will continue to live with their great-grandmother, this reunion gives them the reassurance of their father's love and support. Ryan has written a moving book about family dynamics. While she explores the youngsters' Mexican heritage and gives a vivid picture of life in and the art of Oaxaca, her story is universal, showing the strong bonds and love that make up an extended family. All of the characters are well drawn, and readers will share Naomi's fear until the judge makes the final decision about her future.–Sharon Morrison, Southeastern Oklahoma State University, Durant, OK

Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

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