The novel Becoming Naomi León is very different from the novels that we have encountered so far in this class, aside from Bud, Not Buddy. Both of these novels depict real life circumstances of children in an atypical family household. For Bud, this was being without a mother, not knowing his father, and drifting in and out of foster care. As a result, this lead to the adoption of a variety of rules that many children at his age may not necessarily be aware of. In Becoming Naomi León, Naomi is a very shy young girl, with a disabled little brother, both of whom are raised by their great grandmother. In both of these novels, the mother is absent from their lives for a period of time and they long to find their father.
Throughout this novel, Naomi encounters many changes that lead her to live up to her name. Though quiet and soft-spoken at the beginning of the novel, Naomi soon finds her voice when her mother threatens to take her from her grandmother. The adoption of Naomi’s sense of self and identity formation is facilitated through her trip to Mexico where she learns about her heritage and a side of her that has been absent up until this point in her life- her father. The line from the novel, “Alone, beneath the jacaranda, I stared at the three legged dog and the lion girl in my lap,” (p. 223) is symbolic of Naomi’s journey. The three legged dog could perhaps represent her brother who is disabled, yet a companion to Naomi throughout the entire novel, while the lion girl represents Naomi. Though a young and very much still a child, the association of Naomi with a lion not only captures her family heritage, but most importantly, her strength and perseverant spirit that emerges by the end of the novel.
The previously mentioned symbolism is particularly relevant to the conversation Naomi has with her father with regard to the identity of her carvings on page 220. Specifically, he consoles her when she mistakenly carves off a leg of the soap dog by telling her that the identity of the carving will reveal itself when she is done. Naomi connects this at the end of the novel to people as well (p. 245). In the end, Naomi revealed herself for what she really was after a series of “carvings” involving struggles with her mother, the discovery of her heritage in Mexico, and the fostering of her talent at the festival. Naomi was no longer a shy and soft-spoke young girl, but rather became a strong young mexican girl with the heart of a lion and a better understanding of who she is.
Structurally, each of the chapters incorporates the name of an animal that symbolically represents her character in that chapter. It also seems that the chapters represent Naomi’s artistic choice in carving animal figures. This enables us to focus on Naomi’s personal journey to self-discovery, though her journey is very much an intimate struggle within her family. The use of spanish words, followed by English translations, enables readers to learn with Naomi, while showing the transition into her culture, which soon becomes a central part of her identity.