Becoming Naomi Leon, by Pam Munoz Ryan

Becoming Naomi LeonAwards: Pura Belpre Award; Jane Addams Children’s Book Award; Americas Award Honor Book; Judy Lopez Memorial Award; ALA Top Ten Best Books for Young Adults; New York Public library 100 Titles for Reading and Sharing; Publisher’s Weekly Best Book of the Year; IRA Notable Book for a Global Society; NCSS/CBC Notable Social Studies Trade Book for Young People; Jefferson Cup Award—Worthy of Note; Los Angeles Times Book Prize Finalist

Can you believe the list of awards for this title? I had heard of this book a few years ago but never had the opportunity (or motivation, unfortunately) to pick it up. Now that I did, I regret not having read it earlier.

Naomi and her brother Owen (who is handicapped), have lived with their great grandmother since they were very young. Always curious about the mother who abandoned them, but nevertheless happy with their Gram, they love their experiences in Lemon Tree Trailer Park. That is, until one day their mother shows up and it becomes painfully obvious that she is there to take Naomi away from her family so she can babysit her new stepsister.  Desperate to find a way to avoid separation from her brother and Gram, the family and a couple of neighbors set out on a journey to Mexico, where Naomi’s father works as a fisherman and expert wood/soap carver.

My favorite part of the book, by far, is when Naomi visits Mexico. There are no ridiculous stereotypes so many people are used to, just everyday life in Oaxaca, where people are fond of traditions and strive to provide for their families. Highlighted is the yearly festival de los rabanos, a festival where carvers all over Mexico present their carvings on radishes.

This is a believable story about a broken family that manages to find hope in the smallest of places. It is about finding your own voice and defending what you believe in. Hope, in the end, is what makes a great children’s/young adult book.

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