If you are looking for a book that has an authentic child narrator and navigates skilfully and heartbreakingly through the Foster Care system, then your search is over. My Name is Leon by Kit De Waal is the perfect book for you.
My Name is Leon by Kit de Waal
Published by Viking on June 6th 2016
Genres: Emotions & Feelings, Family Life, Realistic Fiction
Source: Received from Publisher
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.
First Line of My Name is Leon by Kit De Waal:
“No one has to tell Leon that this is a special moment.”
My Thoughts on My Name is Leon by Kit De Waal:
In a nutshell this book is an emotional rollercoaster. Leon is an adorable (but not unbearably so) nine-year-old who gets lost in the Foster Care system. He gets placed in care after his mother has a breakdown and ends up separated from his brother. Jake is white and a baby and so gets adopted quickly, unlike Leon.
As I was reading I felt all his confused thoughts as clearly as if I was experiencing them for myself. The world he was plunged into felt strange and scary as he tried to figure it all out and work out how he could get Jake back and resume looking after him.
“‘He needs me.’, says Leon. ‘Only I can look after him.’”
It was like watching him being blown around in the wind. His foster mum Maureen was loving and well-intentioned but then circumstances changed again, and once more Leon was propelled into another house with a different set of rules and rituals to figure out. The background is the Birmingham in the 1980s and the political unrest added to the note of discord in Leon’s life.
I did admire Maureen and her sister, Sylvia and how they were doing the very best they could do. And I love how they drew Leon into their hearts and give him a sense of belonging. It might not be where he wants to be but it feels realistic and hopeful.
One of my favourite things was how real Leon was. He is angry and rebellious at times, kind and caring at others. He is troubled ,and understandably so, which made him feel so real to me. Maureen’s sister Sylvia is an advocate of tough love but I love how she set boundaries for Leon and still managed to make him feel loved.
“It means don’t fuck up a good thing. It means that if you get bad news or someone gets on your nerves, you don’t make trouble or ruin things at home. Home is where you live, where you sleep, where you eat, where people look after you. Don’t shit on your own seat. You shit on someone else’s seat or find another way to sort things out.”
Most of all, I loved all the quirky, unlikely friendships and the journey they all played in helping Leon find his home. What also really touched me was the unsentimental prose, it just let the story flow and it made it even more poignant for me.
Leon’s grief and loss at the separation from his mother and brother stabbed me in the heart. His sense of limbo at not knowing just where he belongs would affect the coldest of hearts. So in conclusion, it’s not an easy read at times but it is an inspiring and rewarding one.
|Did I feel it?|
Who should read My Name is Leon by Kit De Waal:
I’d highly recommend this to you if you like realistic, hard-hitting story lines about family and loss. Or if you like stories told through the eyes of a child. Fans of Room by Emma Donoghue or The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas by John Boyne should also enjoy this one.