“On a continent of many songs, in a country shaped like the arm of a guitarrista, the rain drummed down on the town of Temuco [Chile],” the invitingly dreamy Dreamer begins. Neftalí Reyes, the eponymous dreamer, is most content to live in a world of stories, ideas, and the smallest things that seem to overtake his never-resting imagination.
He lives in constant fear of his overbearing father, who seems to have nothing but hurtful insults and disappointed impatience for his younger son. Thankfully, Neftalí finds emotional shelter with his nurturing stepmother Mamadre, and his younger sister Laurita. But even they cannot guard against Father’s rants against anything but the practical: he’s already forbidden a music career for Neftalí’s talented older brother Rodolfo, trampling his soul. And Father is scathingly clear about the little regard he has for the brave journalism of Mamadre’s brother Orlando – whom Neftalí idolizes – with which Uncle Orlando is tirelessly fighting for the rights of the abused, indigenous peoples.
In spite of his father’s bullying, Neftalí manages to find moments of grace. He befriends a widowed swan, experiences first love, finds purpose in his first job helping his uncle in (and out of!) his newspaper office. He finds his own voice as a writer … and claims his identity as separate from his father when he names himself Pablo Neruda, “to save Father the humiliation of having a son who is a poet.”
Yes, Neftalí Reyes is the real name of the legendary Nobel Prize-winning poet Pablo Neruda. With spare evocative prose from Pam Muñoz Ryan and whimsical pointillist illustrations by Peter Sís, the dynamic duo use Neruda’s haunting, formative years to create a gorgeous biographical novel of remarkable depth. Young readers will surely experience Neftalí’s fear, his longing, his joy, his aching, his gratitude, his unconditional love … and, most of all, his hope that his words would eventually make “hearts eager to feel all that he could dream.”
Readers: Middle Grade
Published: 2010, 2012 (paperback reprint)