This one may have only been on my TBR list for six months, but by gum it feels good to knock it over anyway. We received a copy of My Name is Leon by Kit de Waal from the publisher via Netgalley, and here’s the blurb from Goodreads:
A brother chosen. A brother left behind. And the only way home is to find him.
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 take Jake away and give him to strangers. Because 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 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 somehow manage to find our way home.
There is a certain charm to books for adults that feature a child protagonist and My Name is Leon certainly exhibits that charm throughout. Leon is an immediately likable lad, with his fierce loyalty to his mother despite her obvious flaws and unfathomable depth of love for his baby brother Jake. His foster carers, Maureen and then Sylvia, are also lovable in different ways, while the folk from the allotment grow on the reader with every interaction. The laid-back but determined Tufty steps in as a replacement father figure for Leon in some ways and while Mr Devlin has a few odd behaviours on the outside, he proves himself to be one who can be counted on in a pinch.
The main focus of the story of course, is Leon’s up-and-down life as he bounces between foster homes, loses his brother to adoption and waits for his mother to get his act together. This alone would have been a rich vein to mine, but de Waal has also included a sideplot about race riots that, while relevant to Leon and his situation, seemed slightly out of place with the tone of the rest of the story. Having said that, it does provide a rather exciting end to what could have otherwise been a reasonably predictable story arc! I would have liked to see a bit of information about this part of the story in an author’s note – were the events based on actual events, and if so, where and when and in what social context did these happen? If not, why were they included?
Overall, this is an uplifting story that shows the reality of many foster children’s lives today, even though it is set in the 1980s. The story did feel a bit hefty at times, particularly in the middle, as Leon is developing his relationship with the folk of the allotments, but the richness of the relationships developed between the characters is a satisfying pay-off for this.
Until next time,