Wednesday, 7 February 2018

My Name is Leon by Kit de Waal

Reviewer: Catriona Troth

What We Thought:


This is a book I have had on my radar for a long time.

Leon is almost ten years old. He doesn’t look anything like his mother or his new-born half brother, but he loves them both very much and wants to take care of them. In fact he takes better care of Jake than his mother does, which is just as well, as she keeps disappearing off and leaving them alone. Leon manages all right most of the time, but one day they run out of food. He goes to a neighbour for help – and that’s when things really starts to go wrong.

Leon and Jake are taken into foster care with a women called Maureen. Maureen is kind but she’s not his mum. And now some people want to take Jake away for good. All Leon wants to do is keep his family together. But how can he do that? Adults lie and keep secrets and take things away from him without asking. There is no one he can trust, so he is going to have to solve everything by himself.

Set in 1981, riots and racial tensions run through the background. The novel addresses adoption, fostering, the complexities of multi-racial families, and the many ways we let children in care down.

Reading as an adult, we may see the good intentions of the grown-ups around Leon. But de Waal understands that, no matter how dysfunctional the birth family or how caring the foster family, having one’s family broken up is still going to be traumatic. She takes us deep inside Leon’s head and makes us feel what it’s like to be tumbled from one place to the next, to lose the people you love through no fault of your own, and to have no control and little say over what happens to you or them.

It’s hard to place whether this book for young adults or not. The story is told entirely through the eyes of almost-ten-year-old Leon, and the story-telling is simple and accessible. But some of the themes and language used are probably not be suitable for younger children.

A tender, heartbreaking and ultimately uplifting story that sidesteps a fairytale ending in favour of realism and warmth.

My Name is Leon was shortlisted for the Costa First Novel Award. The author is the founder of the Kit de Waal scholarship, a fully funded bursary on the Birkbeck College Creative Writing MA, for a student from a disadvantaged background. She is also the editor of Common People, an anthology of working class writers, currently seeking funding on Unbound.

You’ll Enjoy This If You Loved: Pigeon English by Stephen Kelman, The Bed and Breakfast Star by Jacqueline Wilson

Avoid If You Dislike: Stories about adoption and fostering; children as point of view characters; strong language in Young Adult novels.

Perfect Accompaniment: Bacon sarnie with ketchup, and lots of tea

Genre: Literary Fiction; Young Adult

Available on Amazon

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