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.
Publisher: Penguin Viking
A heart-wrenching exploration of the world through a young boy’s eyes, Kit de Waal’s debut novel follows nine-year-old Leon on his journey from agonising loss to love and identity. The decline of his mother’s mental health sends Leon and his brother Jake tumbling into the arms of Maureen, who carves out a space in her heart and her home for the siblings. But when Jake is offered up for adoption, Maureen cannot shield Leon from the injustices of the outside world, much less the anger and grief bubbling within him.
My Name is Leon is simple yet highly expressive. Told entirely from the perspective of Leon, a mixed-race child, the novel touches on issues such as racism and the shortcomings of the Social Services system without being didactic. While the story itself builds slowly, almost tentatively, it is by no means boring thanks to its protagonist’s insight and poignant honesty.
De Waal’s delicate prose wound its way through my mind and stayed there, stirring up my emotions for days after I’d turned the final page. This is a beautiful novel.
Recommended to: Anyone looking for a warm yet melancholic read.
This review was also posted on Writers Write’s review page.