The Dreamer by Pam Munoz Ryan, illustrations by Peter Sis (Scholastic, 2010).
This books opens so beautifully.
On a continent of many songs, in a country shaped like the arm of a tall guitarrista, the rain drummed down on the town of Temuco.
This is the story of Pablo Neruda before he became Pablo Neruda, when he was still just a boy called Neftali Reyes.
Neftali did not have it easy growing up. His father was an abusive tyrant, never happy with Neftali or his older brother Rodolfo and never showing his children the affection or love they so desperately craved. Neftali had a stutter and was put on bed-rest for long stretches of time, not able to leave the house or go to school. But even with these struggles, Neftali’s way of seeing the world with his young poet’s heart shines through with Pam Munoz Ryan’s expert storytelling.
Honestly, I read this book months ago, but I have been mulling over the depiction of the father’s cruelty since I put it down. Although Neftali grew up in a time before there were clear laws against child abuse, before it was even really conceptualized as such, there are still a lot of thorny questions about how to deal with it in a work of children’s fiction.
As an adult reader, I wanted there to be absolutely no question that child abuse is wrong and children should seek help if they are in an abusive situation. But would that have warped the story of Neftali’s childhood in some way? Does fiction have that responsibility?
These are tough questions that I’m sure Ryan wrangled with herself. Tomorrow’s post has her own take on Neftali’s father and how she chose to depict him.