A rare experience indeed

Title: The Dreamer

Author: Pam Munoz Ryan and Peter Sís

Pub. Date: April 2010

Publisher: Scholastic, Inc.

Genre: Historical/realistic fiction

Age Range: Middle Grade

Synopsis/Teaser: Young Neftalí Reyes is a dreamer by anyone’s standards: He can easily get lost in a book, he sees the magical in the everyday, and he can’t help wondering where, why, and how things are or might be. But growing up in his native Chile, his thoughts and aspirations are repressed by his harsh and overbearing father. He and his siblings struggle to be themselves while their father insists that they become something practical, like doctors or businessmen. Neftalí shows great promise in writing, and as he grows into a young man, he tries his best to rise above his father’s rule and discover who he truly is.

Review: The Dreamer is based on the childhood of the great 20th-century poet Pablo Neruda. Neruda’s biographical essays provided a starting point for author Pam Munoz Ryan, and from these and her own imagination she constructed a beautiful coming-of-age story– a tale that is more of an experience than a yarn.

Munoz writes with a clear, ringing, measured prose, offering many details that converge into a convincing whole. Dispersed throughout the chapters of The Dreamer are questions Neftalí may have though, paired with full-page illustrations by Peter Sís. The book, printed entirely in green ink, is a work of art itself. The poetic, heartfelt storytelling  wraps around the reader’s mind, engulfing them in Neftalí’s world. This rounded, ringing effect is reminiscent of the works of Alice Hoffman, whose little books are as full as any bulging tome.

Though lacking the edge-of-your-seat action of many of my favorite novels, The Dreamer is gripping in its own right. The fact that the story is based on reality makes it all the more so. One truly feels for Neftalí as his father squashes his dreams. After reading this book, I felt myself looking at the world a little bit differently. I found myself noticing things– a fallen but still intact bird’s nest in the snow, a purplish seed pod on the sidewalk, the way a pair of tree branches formed an arch. The Dreamer is one of those rare books that leaves its mark on the reader well after he or she finishes reading it.

Recommended for: All ages, 9 and up, especially those who are interested in the works of Pablo Neruda. Any literary-minded person will appreciate this book.

Overall Rating: 4 out of 5 possible stars

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