on September 1st 2004
Genres: Regional & Ethnic
Published by Scholastic Press
Buy on Amazon (affiliate link)
“Naomi Soledad León Outlaw has had a lot to contend with in her young life, her name for one. Then there are her clothes (sewn in polyester by Gram), her difficulty speaking up, her status at school as “nobody special.” But according to Gram’s self-prophecies, most problems can be overcome with positive thinking. Luckily, Naomi also has her carving to strengthen her spirit. And life with Gram and her little brother, Owen, is happy and peaceful. That is, until their mother reappears after 7 years of being gone, stirring up all sorts of questions and challenging Naomi to discover who she really is.”
Naomi and Owen were left with their great-grandmother in Southern California when their mother decided that she didn’t want the responsibility of caring for them anymore. Owen was born with physical disabilities and this was too much for their mother to handle. Now, seven years and several surgeries later, Owen is thriving but he still has some obvious disabilities. Naomi is happy at home in the trailer with Owen and Gran and their close community of neighbors. Then their mother reappears with a new name, Skyla, and a new boyfriend. She wants to take Naomi to live with her. Just Naomi.
Naomi and Owen are half Mexican but they have no connection to the Mexican side of their family since their mother refused to let their father see them after they divorced. He has sent money to Gran to help out though. Now, to help bolster support for Gran to be able to keep the kids they head to Mexico to try to find him. They know that he always attends the Oaxaca Radish carving competitions around Christmas so they head there. (Yes, that is a real thing.)
This story highlights the world of a young girl who doesn’t realize how much her family turmoil has affected her until it is time for her to stand up for herself and her brother. Her world is widened by meeting her Mexican relatives and by finding out more about her parents. Kids whose parents have left them imagine all kinds of scenarios about them returning. When it doesn’t work out in the way they expect, it can be devastating. Gran has tried to shield them from the truth but it is coming out now and they have to deal with the consequences. Gran has always been their rock and now they see her scared and unsure of what to do. Naomi and Owen react differently which accurately represents their ages and personalities.
This is a middle grade book. I’d recommend it for any kid who doesn’t know quite where they fit in the world. Also, seriously, radish carving – that is a weirdly interesting competition.