“I always thought the biggest problem in my life was my name Naomi Soledad León Outlaw, but little did I know that it was the least of my troubles, or that someday I would live up to it.” Naomi, of Becoming Naomi León by Pam Muñoz Ryan, has a lot to contend with. Besides her name, there are her clothes, which are sewn in polyester by her Grandmother. She also has difficulty speaking up, although that will change. And her status among her classmates is that of most fifth-graders: nobody special. Yet the worst is to come. One day, after seven years of being gone, her mother reappears.
The bulk of Becoming Naomi León is about family relationships. Until chapter twelve, there are only a few references to Naomi’s ethnicity. She describes herself as having a “disposition towards brownness,” because she takes after her dad’s side of the family. A new classmate starts talking to her in Spanish, because to her Naomi looks Spanish, but then discovers Naomi can’t speak Spanish and has never been to Mexico. The girls become fast friends anyway, because Naomi’s ethnicity does not matter to Blanca. Unfortunately, it does to Dustin who taunts Naomi, “It’s the Outlaws and one looks like a Mexican bandido. Steal anything lately?” The play on name reminds me of how my classmates used to call me Allosaurus after the dinosaur because of my first name and ask me if I had hunted recently because of my last name. Dustin seems to like being mean to anyone who is different; he also calls Naomi’s brother “retard” due to his limp and habit of wearing tape on his clothes to stay calm.
In the second half of Becoming Naomi, Naomi’s grandmother takes Naomi and her brother to Mexico to escape their mother. While in Mexico, Naomi adds “Superb Spanish words” and “Favorite Mexican foods” to her growing collection of lists. We also learn about Nuestra Señora de la Soledad or Our Lady of Solitude. Soledad, is Naomi’s middle name. It’s also a special name in Oaxaca, the town where the family stays in Mexico. Last, we learn about a couple Mexican traditions: Los Posadas and La Noche de los Rabános or Night of the Radishes. In fact, the inspiration to Becoming Naomi León arose from Ryan’s own visit in 1997 visit to the Mexican city of Oaxaca to that latter annual Christmastime event.
My rating? Read it: Borrow from your library or a friend. It’s worth your time.
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