Saturday 18 June 2016

My Name is Leon - Kit de Waal

A brother chosen. A brother left behind. And a family where you'd least expect to find one.
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.

What did I think?

This book should come with a packet of tissues; I felt so emotionally invested in this book and completely engrossed in Leon's story that I kept thinking about it long after I had turned the final page.

Leon is almost 9 years old and already he is acting as a carer for his baby brother, Jake, and his mother, Carol. As it becomes clear that his mother cannot look after Leon and Jake, or even herself, Leon and Jake are taken into care. So they pack their meagre belongings and go to live with Maureen, their foster carer.  Maureen has fostered lots of children and she welcomes each and every one of them into her home and loves them as if they were her own children.  With Maureen opening her heart to Leon and Jake so unconditionally, I immediately knew that they were in good and safe hands.

I thought my heart would break when Leon kept wondering when his mother would come back for them but as Carol shows no signs of getting back on her feet, it is not long before Jake is adopted and Leon is left feeling understandably bereft. When Maureen is suddenly taken ill it is her sister, Sylvia, who steps in to look after Leon. As Leon struggles to fit in to his ever-changing environment he rides his bike to the local allotments and makes some unlikely friends - a strange bunch of people who are all struggling to fit in and find that, in the end, they just might all fit together perfectly like the missing pieces of a jigsaw.

My Name is Leon is a wonderful advert for foster caring; it's a beautiful story that reminds us that 'family' can come in all guises, not just those we are related to by blood. We hear so many horror stories on the news that it is so refreshing to read a heartwarming, lovely story like this.  I cried at the beginning, middle and end as Leon's plight is an all too common occurrence.  Kit de Waal, in her astonishing debut, has done an amazing job of giving each of her characters a strong and completely unique voice; from Leon's hilarious innocence to Maureen's inexhaustible love.  Such varied and unique characters who inevitably managed to set up house and make a little home in my heart.

Written with such breathtaking tenderness, My Name is Leon is an emotional, poignant, heartwarming story filled with innocent humour and, above all, hope.

I received this book from the publisher, Penguin, in exchange for an honest review.

My rating:

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