Thanks once again to Brandy at Random Musings of a Bibliophile, who brought this book to my attention.
Two Naomis by Olugbemisola Rhuday-Perkovich & Audrey Vernick. Balzer + Bray, 2016.
Naomi Marie is a very smart girl who does West African dance, keeps trying and failing to start up new clubs at her library branch, and who loves the bakery at Shelly Ann’s the best. She’s also quite bossy with her little sister Brianna, though I’m sure she would say she’s just trying to help. She and her dad do board games and puzzles when she goes over to his nearby apartment.
Naomi E. is an only child living with her father, since her mother has moved to Hollywood to be a full-time movie costume designer. Her father might forget to fix real meals once in a while, and Skype just isn’t the same as living with her mother. She might be Jewish – the text talks about her attending a cousin’s bat mitzvah. Her favorite bakery is definitely Morningstar.
Both Naomis prefer to be called just by their first names, actually. And life might not be perfect, but it’s pretty okay. Both of them are resentful when their parents decide that they need to work on being best friends, and that they must both come up with different names to make things easier when they’re together. Naomi E’s slight interest in checkers is certainly not a large amount of common ground with Naomi Marie’s interest in all sorts of other, more recent board games. But their parents sign them up for Girls Gaming the System coding class together and start taking them to bakeries together – an exercise certain to disappoint girls with their own decided opinions.
Brianna openly expresses doubts about the arrangement, wondering with a four-year-old’s candor if it’s really OK for “white Naomi” to play with her own black dolls. The older girls are much less concerned about their skin colors and more concerned about having friendship forced on them, a friendship that comes with the growing realization that it means that their parents are giving up on the relationship with the other parent.
This is a pitch-perfect middle grade story that looks with warmth and sympathy on two girls learning to find the positive side of a difficult situation. Each Naomi is written by a different author, giving them very distinct voices. Give this one to kids who enjoy realistic stories of family (with normal but happily not tragic levels of family stress), friendship, and excellent baked goods.