My Name is Leon
By Kit de Waal, and and,
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.Tweet
Resources for this book
(Warning - you may need tissues) Emotional period piece about family with a strong child's point of view in the writing
Leon has cared for his mum and his baby brother since Jake was born and his mother began to retreat from the real world. He adores Jakes, he loves his mum, but he can't get her to leave her bed, to buy food.
Leon is 9, born to a white mother and a black father, living in 1980s England. Jake's father is white. When the boys are inevitably taken into care, Leon begins to find stability with Maureen, to become a boy again, but one day a couple come by to play with Jake...
I openly wept at work reading this in my lunch break, the writing of some highly emotional scenes was absolutely heart-breaking. It is written from Leon's very naive yet mature point of view, though not first person, but it is clearly his own thoughts and feelings we are sharing. And it really did feel that de Waal has captured the mind of a nine-year-old boy. Leon is very, very real.
His story is such a sad one, as he struggles to understand why his mum isn't coming for him, why he can't see his brother, what is happening around him. Leon discovers a local allotment with an Afro-Caribbean man and an Irishman, often at odds with each other, he begins to help them grow vegetables, and he is there first-hand when race riots rear their ugly head.
I was born in 1980, and was oblivious to the events depicted here in the early eighties. It is all too real here though - racist and violent police, revolution in the air, hostility and fear. And Leon with his own resentments and hidden worries in the middle of it.
He's a well-crafted little boy, one you'd not look at twice riding his bike down the hill, but one whose story has a lot to tell us about Britain three decades ago, and how much has changed since.
The carers portrayed here are wonderful, human, imperfect, but loving and large (of heart) women. Leon's allotment friends are more than just the stereotypes they are seen as by the police and those around them - with their own stories and lives, that Leon discovers over time.
It's a book with a lot of issues raised, it wouldn't be too much for a teenaged reader, and adults will get a lot from it, the historical detail brought back pictures from my childhood (ghetto blasters, BMX bikes), the story a shockingly sad but ultimately uplifting one.
With thanks to The Reading Agency for the advance copy, sent for review purposes.
The story of Leon and his situation felt all too real. This was quite an emotional read with well drawn characters all trying to do their best and deal with the cards life had given them. None of them were without flaws the main seemed to be not realising how children have a real talent for making themselves invisible and listening in to adult conversations which can and does in this case lead to all sorts of trouble.Right from the beginning Leon tugged at the heart strings and this reader was rooting for him.The ending was perhaps a little contrived but I was able to forgive the author as I really didn't want it to turn out any other way. Even though the book is finished I have written a few more chapters in my head which sees Leon's future dreams come true.
‘My name is Leon ‘is one of those rare books that is able to hook you in from the very first page. The story is beautifully told – the writing flows nicely with lovely descriptions and observations. The story is a heart-breaking account of a fractured family falling apart and the impact this has on two young brothers. All of the characters are fully formed and believable from the tragic Carol to the concerned neighbour unable to cope with other peoples troubles anymore. But is the character of Leon that is the revelation in the book. The young boy’s innermost thoughts are explored in an honest and extraordinary way. Leon is torn first from the mother that he is desperate to protect and then separated from his baby brother in a scene that is heart-breaking to read. I loved this book, it was moving and poignant – I just wanted to protect Leon just like the kindly foster mother who was powerless to stop the social services separating the siblings. It was difficult to believe that it was a first novel the writing is so accomplished – definitely a ten out of ten for me
Sarah Davis – reader development coordinator Greenwich Libraries
Loved this book, so sad and moving. I really believed in Leon and the story telling was so emotional, I really felt for him.
It was heart-breaking when his brother is adopted and I hated the Social Services for making that awful decision.
It is such a believable story written so sensitively with insight and compassion.
Congratulations to Kit, I hope this is a best seller! It deserved to be. Totally readable and a good book for reading groups to discuss.
I would love to meet the author and find out more about how she came to write this wonderful book!
Such a lovely and touching novel, which takes a realistic look at the care system in the 1980s without labelling victims and villains. Leon is a gem of a character, who just wants to be with his little brother and be a family. In some ways he is innocent to the world, in other ways he is wise beyond his years. Well worth a read.