Happy Monday, guys!
This week, we're reviewing the excellent Two Naomis by Olugbemisola Rhuday-Perkovich, Audrey Vernick!
MMGM is a feature hosted by (fabulous) author Shannon Messenger on her blog every week!
Published September 13th 2016 by Balzer + Bray
Format read: ARC via publisher
Naomi Marie starts clubs at the library and adores being a big sister. Naomi Edith loves quiet Saturdays and hanging with her best friend in her backyard. And while Naomi Marie’s father lives a few blocks away, Naomi Edith wonders how she’s supposed to get through each day a whole country apart from her mother.
When Naomi Marie’s mom and Naomi Edith’s dad get serious about dating, each girl tries to cling to the life she knows and loves. Then their parents push them into attending a class together, where they might just have to find a way to work with each other—and maybe join forces to find new ways to define family.
Olugbemisola Rhuday-Perkovich and Audrey Vernick introduce us to Naomi Marie and Naomi Edith, who have absolutely nothing in common. (No, really - Naomi M. and Naomi E. would be happy to confirm that fact.) But when their parents begin dating and get serious, the two girls begin to see their lives converge in a way that surprises, confuses and ultimately challenges them.
So. The first thing that readers should know about this book, is that there isn't really a specific and/or central arc to the story. Instead, it's more like a series of looks into Naomi M. and Naomi E's lives, as their respective parental units begin navigating the tricky waters of introducing the girls to one another.
And it works. It really, really works.
Because by not having an especially defined arc, Rhuday-Perkovich and Vernick intelligently capture the disruption that both girls feel when their ordinary, day-to-day routines are changed in the name of this growing relationship. We can feel the absolute frustration that Naomi Edith feels when she can no longer have lazy Saturdays and croissants at her favorite bakery, and Naomi Marie's struggles with wanting to ignore her younger sister, but also wanting to show up the other Naomi, by emphasizing her genuine sibling ties.
Through alternating chapters, Rhuday-Perkovich and Vernick also touches on how both families struggle to work through the challenges of this post-divorce reality. They don't hesitate to show both parents and girls occasionally getting it wrong, including the decision to force the girls to take a coding class together, despite neither girl having an especial interest in coding. The central conflict that particular decision brings up really helps to reinforce the notion that no one really knows how to act after a family dynamic has changed, and readers will appreciate the scenes where characters will sit down and share their feelings on that understanding, especially a touchingly honest scene between Naomi Edith and her father.
While some readers may argue that no young tween is that candid with their parents, I would actually counter by saying that Rhuday-Perkovich and Vernick actually beautifully show what it means to be able to speak candidly with an adult, and will hopefully inspire and motivate many young minds with the refreshingly honest relationships that both Naomis have with their respective parents.
Outside of the core focus on the two girls getting to know each other, readers will likely appreciate Rhuday-Perkovich and Vernick's approach toward friendship and divorce. Both girls have friends who are sympathetic at the two Naomis being encouraged to get to know each other, but said friends also encourage the growth of that relationship. There's no emphasis on clique-ish behavior, which is always a positive. Similarly for anything related to divorce, Rhuday-Perkovich and Vernick make it abundantly clear that there is no villain in either divorce. Instead, it's strictly a question of the parents growing apart (but still loving each other), which I also found healthy and refreshing.
While Naomi Marie is African-American and Naomi Edith is Caucasian, Rhuday-Perkovich and Vernick make the decision to not have that be an subplot. Instead, it's gently touched upon throughout the novel, with Naomi Marie sharing tidbits about her family background, to the two girls making jokes about others not being able to tell them apart. However, it never becomes An Issue. It's a graceful reminder of how diversity should be integrated seamlessly into the fabric of our society, and I feel that many readers - including myself and Tom - appreciated it.
Bottom line: this is a funny, intelligent look at two girls who are coxed into getting to know each other, and all of the growth, missteps and occasionally dramatic moments that occur along the way. It's a great look at also of diversity in literature, and we need more books like this one.