Pam Ryan’s Becoming Naomi Leon is the first book that we have read in class where I truly question its being as a children’s book. I am hesitant to believe that this would be a book I would read to my own children for two main reasons, both having to do with the plot and inner workings of the novel. The first is obvious – Skyla’s emergence as a battered mother who frequently abandons her children in favor of a questionable boyfriend. Although this situation is more common in our society than anyone would like to admit, I find it hard to be comfortable with 9 and 10 year olds reading this sort of material. There is something to be said for the innocence of children that literature should seek to promote. Additionally, her favoritism of Naomi at first over Owen for no other reason than his physical deformities and her aversion to her son. Even when she brings the bike for him, she does it with the clarification that it was Clive who actually made the purchase. She is merely a middle man and in some sense, seems reluctant to be an unbiased, loving mother. Therefore, through subject material that discusses alcohol addictions and the relapsing and failing wills of adults, this naïve quality that we love and cherish in children slowly gets stripped away.
The second reason I am hesitant to endorse this book as a classic children’s piece is because of the constant battle of characters to fit into a mold or be subjected to bullying. Again, this is a huge thing we see in real life but for a book, it is hard to allow this kind of behavior to be brushed over. For example, Naomi regards eating in the library as an activity for “the leftover kids” (57). This is also seen when Owen is treated poorly because of his appearance and teased in school. Furthering this, upon meeting Blanca, Naomi feels the need to warn her about how weird her brother is. This kind of clarifying behavior perpetuates many of the problems seen in society – there should be no need to give disclaimers for those different than us only in appearance. Therefore, although I like the book and enjoy it as a general read, I’m not sure that the way it presents material about alcoholism and bullying necessarily fits in with conventional notions of children’s literature.