I first heard about My Name is Leon when it was featured on the Radio 2 Book Club at the beginning of June, just after it was released. Since then, I have read so many wonderful reviews of the book that I had to find out for myself if it was a good as everyone was was saying. And it is! Leon is a character who I am sure most readers can’t help but take to their heart.
Leon is only nine and has a new baby brother, Jake, who he loves. His mother Carol though seems unable to look after either of them, quite possibly suffering from post natal depression, though she clearly has many difficulties in her life. Leon has to look after both himself and the baby, often missing school as he struggles to keep them fed and clean. When, thankfully, one of Carol’s friends discovers the situation she calls social services and both boys are given into the care of foster carer Maureen. After some time with her, the brothers are separated as baby Jake is adopted. You see, as a white baby Jake is highly sought after, if I can put it that way, whereas Leon had a different father and is black and older so isn’t wanted by that family.
My heart just went out to Leon. I would have taken him home myself! His grief at losing his baby brother was palpable and his bewilderment at being rejected was heart-breaking. I felt that Kit De Waal captured Leon’s young voice, thoughts and emotions completely convincingly. I was quite angry with social services for separating the boys but perhaps in the 80s this wouldn’t have been unusual. I’d like to think that it wouldn’t happen today, that they would try to keep a family together but I just don’t know. Thank goodness for foster carer Maureen who was so compassionate and down-to-earth and not afraid to tell Leon that she wasn’t happy with the decision either, while trying to reassure him that he was safe with her. But Maureen takes ill and Leon’s story goes in a different direction again.
My Name is Leon is a really emotional story about a very endearing character. It’s sad but it’s funny too. A heartwarming story about finding your place in the world when everything you held dear has been taken from you. A compelling read.
My thanks to the publishers for providing a review copy via Netgalley. My Name is Leon was published by Penguin on 2nd June in hardback and ebook formats with the paperback to follow next January. You can order a copy online here: My Name is Leon
From the back of the book
A brother chosen. A brother left behind. And a family where you’d least expect to find one.
Leon is nine, and has a perfect baby brother called Jake. They have gone to live with Maureen, who has fuzzy red hair like a halo, and a belly like Father Christmas. But the adults are speaking in low voices, and wearing Pretend faces. They are threatening to give Jake to strangers. Since Jake is white and Leon is not.
As Leon struggles to cope with his anger, certain things can still make him smile – like Curly Wurlys, riding his bike fast downhill, burying his hands deep in the soil, hanging out with Tufty (who reminds him of his dad), and stealing enough coins so that one day he can rescue Jake and his mum.
Evoking a Britain of the early eighties, My Name is Leon is a heart-breaking story of love, identity and learning to overcome unbearable loss. Of the fierce bond between siblings. And how – just when we least expect it – we manage to find our way home.