February 28, 2013
Becoming Naomi Leon by Pam Munoz Ryan
Becoming Naomi Leon
by Pam Munoz Ryan
Naomi Soledad Leon Outlaw has a lot to cope with and her name is just part of it. The first half of her name reflects her Mexican heritage, as do her looks. Gram shared her last name, Outlaw, and while Naomi loves having a part of Gram with her all the time, she wish the punk boys at school had less to laugh about. They make fun of her name every day. A good number of the girls snicker about her clothes — polyester and hand made by Gram.
The only place at school that feels safe is the library. She goes there for lunch every day, eating and reading. The librarian knows the kids are breaking a rule but he realizes the importance of giving them a safe haven and unconditional acceptance.
Owen, Naomi’s kid brother, doesn’t feel the same insecurities. Naomi doesn’t get it but he never hears the taunts of the bullies quite the same way that she does. It just doesn’t phase him because he sure they don’t mean to be so bad.
At home, Naomi finds solace in her carvings. Their neighbor is a wood carver and he has taught Naomi to carve soap. She has a gift and her soap carvings are every bit as moving as his painted wood carvings.
Then someone shows up at the trailer they share with Gram. This woman claims to be their mother. She’s just there for a visit to get to know her two kids but it soon becomes clear that she only wants to know Naomi. Owen’s handicaps freak her out and she’d rather not even look at him. Naomi enjoys having someone with the time to dote on her — braiding her hair and shopping for her. But she doesn’t like the way her mother brushes Owen aside.
Then Mom insists that Naomi come to Las Vegas with her and leave Gram and Owen behind. If Naomi doesn’t agree, something bad is going to happen. Can Naomi find the courage to keep her family together? And just who is family and who isn’t?
I don’t want to say much more about the plot because I don’t want to give all the best bits away. This is an amazing book and I’m not sure how I managed not to read it for so long. It was first published in 2005. Pam Munoz Ryan has created a completely lovable character who is secure in her strengths, insecure about her faults and unsure where she fits into the world — otherwise a typical kid.
Yes, she happens to be half Mexican and discovering who she is eventually means finding out about that half of her family background. And what an amazing, wondrous journey it is.
I hope you will take part in that journey and share this book with the young reader in your life. There are parts of the story that are scary — no one wants to think that a parent could cast a child aside — but there is so much to love about this story. It is a story about strength and beauty and hardship and love but most of all it is a story about family.