Ramon Salazar’s timeless journey of the soul introduces young readers to that seemingly universal dialogue of cultures, the dialogue between fear and love, authority and personal autonomy, superstition and faith. Early in his tale, Ramon’s choices are adaptations to traditional values of fear, competitiveness, acquisitiveness, ego, and wishful thinking. Feeling weak, he seeks empowerment by becoming a diver. Feeling inferior to Gaspar, he dreams of the most extraordinary accomplishment, finding treasure. Once a doubter and now an eyewitness to the evil Manta Diablo, Ramon discovers its greater reality; like all the powers of the physical universe, the Manta Diablo’s power is both horrifying and awesomely beautiful. This greater awareness allows Ramon to mature and move toward choices that affirm his love of his father, with all his imperfections. Without peer pressure or an exemplary model, Ramon actively constructs his own identity and values and returns to his home and his mother and sisters with a dawning sense of his own self-worth. His final choice, to return the stolen pearl to its sanctuary in the open hand of the Madonna, symbolizes a triumph of human love and faith over all those fearful powers of nature, humankind, and demons.
Although triumphant, Ramon is far from perfect. He spins a yarn of good and evil very like the standard gothic tale designed to thrill, with glowering monsters and dark and stormy nights. As a narrator, he appears to have no sense of humor and little awareness of the racism and sexism informing his world and his own words and deeds. As an autobiographer, he seems bland and self-absorbed. Perhaps his lack of critical faculties emphasizes how his transformation is not powered by the exercise of reason. His transformation is accomplished by a series of affective, value-laden choices between self and other, good and evil, fear and love.