A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this book.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that this book is about a custody battle: Naomi's mother is a mean, abusive alcoholic who abandons her children for years. The children are recovering from traumas: Naomi had selective mutism and even now has trouble speaking; Owen, born with birth defects that have left him a FLK (Funny Looking Kid), wears pieces of tape on his chest so that he can feel more secure. When their mother returns, she drives drunk and even slaps and threatens Naomi. Even so, the book is filled with positive role models and Naomi eventually learns to be brave enough to speak for what she wants. The message here is to "carve what your imagination dictates so that what is inside can become what is meant to be."
What's the story?
Naomi and her little brother, Owen, live with their great-grandmother in a trailer park. Their mother left them years ago and hasn't been heard from since. Naomi suffered selective mutism as a result of the traumas she endured with her mother, and even now has trouble speaking up. Owen has birth defects and had endured many surgeries. But despite these troubles, Gram has created for them a relatively secure, happy life with caring neighbors who help support the family.
Then their mother reappears, a not-so-recovering alcoholic with a scary tattoo-artist boyfriend. They want to take Naomi (but not Owen) off to Las Vegas so she can take care of the boyfriend's daughter and they can get child support from the government. Their neighbors hitch Naomi and Owen's trailer to their pickup, and they take off for Mexico to try to convince the children's father, to write a letter showing he wants his kids to remain with their loving grandmother. But first, they have to find him.
Is it any good?
Naomi, Owen, and Gram are appealing characters. Naomi worries, keeps lists of things that interest her, and hangs out in the school library with other social misfits and the kind, eccentric librarian. Owen is relentlessly optimistic and cheerful, and his rather lopsided appearance masks intelligence and a good heart. Gram works hard and believes in the power of positive thinking, and she has managed to make their meager existence seem rich and cozy.
The only character who doesn't ring true is the children's mother, Skyla, who seems to have no redeeming qualities at all. She is maliciously selfish, scheming, devious, alcoholic, abusive, and just plain mean. While this certainly enhances the reader's sympathy for already sympathetic characters, it does make Skyla a rather cardboard villain, and lessens the complexity of the situation. But the author makes up for this with the richness of the scenes in Mexico, which spring to vivid life after the pale California scenes. They seem to be shot through a warmer filter, and will make readers long for a trip to Mexico.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about the dilemma Naomi and her grandmother find themselves in. If you were the judge, how would you decide who Naomi should live with?
Parents, too, may want to explain trauma and the ways that it expressed itself. Younger kids may be confused by Naomi's selective mutism or Owen's need to wear tape on his shirt, and may need some explanation.
Finally, Naomi, the list maker, makes a list of words that she loves. What words would be on your list? Include words in English, Spanish -- or another language you love.
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