For a young reader, not much is better during the summer months (or ever!) than a story about an island and a young girl, a new friend and an old sailboat, and most intriguingly, a treasure map; which means The Treasure of Maria Mamoun would have been on the top of my favorite books list when I was a kid. And even now, I practically flew through this book, loving every minute. Author Michelle Chalfoun brings the reader right to the island of Martha’s Vineyard; one can almost feel the ocean breeze and taste the oysters alongside the newly-transplanted Maria Theresa Ramirez Mamoun.
Before moving to the island, Maria and her Lebanese mother, Celeste, live in the Bronx, where her single mother works two nursing jobs, and Maria barely leaves their empty apartment after school. She’s never met her absentee father, who moved back to Puerto Rico before she was born. Twelve-year-old Maria does not get along with a particular group of girls also in sixth grade, whom she dubs the “Bad Barbies.” And one day, after she has a bad run-in with said Barbies, her mother decides to call it quits in the city and take another job. And so, Maria soon finds herself living in a small cottage on Martha’s Vineyard. Celeste has a new job nursing an elderly gentleman named Mr. Ironwall, who owns the estate where the cottage belongs.
Maria comes into her own on this storied island, where she thrives in the salt air. She is tasked with walking Mr. Ironwall’s dog and meanders around his property, winding up on the beach and staring at an old, docked sailboat, curious about its past. Her life on the island becomes the stuff kids’ dreams are made of: the discovery of an old treasure map, an abandoned sailboat, a new dog to walk, and, most of all, a real, live, actual friend.
Of course, not everything is coming up roses. Maria’s new friend, Paolo, has some enemies of his own they have to deal with, who are also interested in the treasure map. But before they do that, they have to solve the riddle on the map. On top of this, the elderly gentleman Maria’s mother is nursing is getting sicker and sicker, and Maria is concerned about his wellbeing. She has become friends with Mr. Ironwall, and she doesn’t know what to do to help him get better. Plus, if something happens to him, where will she and her mother go next? As Maria’s future seems more tenuous, she becomes desperate to find the treasure. Maybe it will solve all their problems.
A well-written story with believable characters, The Treasure of Maria Mamoun will draw readers in and make them root for Maria to solve the message on the map and find the treasure. But more importantly, readers will root for Maria to make friends and find a real home on Martha’s Vineyard, one where she and her mother can find community and a kind of family in those around them—which is perhaps the real treasure.
The Treasure of Maria Mamoun is in stores now.