Book Review: My Name is Leon by Kit de Waal

Book- My Name is Leon by Kit de WaalMy Name is Leon is set in 1981, amid riots and celebrations. The story is told from the perspective of Leon, a nine-year-old boy whose mother (Carol) struggles to cope with being a single parent after having a new baby. Leon is mesmerised by his baby brother, and enjoys learning to take care of him, but things get more and more difficult until Carol becomes too ill to look after them.

Leon and his baby brother end up staying with Maureen, where they must get used to living without their mum, but more changes are on the way, and Leon begins to suspect that nothing will ever be the same again.   

Kit de Waal has certainly captured the voice of a nine-year-old boy, who is both absolutely sure of himself and confoundingly lost at the same time. He longs to reunite his small family, and tries everything possible, despite the well-meaning but often intrusive actions of social workers.

Leon is mixed race (with a West Indian father) while his baby brother is white, and despite their close relationship the world seems determined to split them apart. It is this that forms the crux of the plot, as Leon begins to learn about racial prejudice when he meets Tufty at the local allotments, a friendly West Indian man who reminds him of his absent father.

The allotments are a place of fascination for Leon, where he meets all sorts of characters and begins to learn a few life lessons, but eventually the pain inside him builds to such an extent that he devises a plan to reunite his family, endangering his new friends in the process.

My Name is Leon is about as emotionally intense as you can get, with a cast of honest, flawed yet well-meaning characters, who are both believable and genuine. This is not a novel full of cliff-hangers, but it is unnervingly real. Read it in small doses, and be warned – it will tug at your heart strings.

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