Title- My Name is Leon
Author- Kit De Waal
Length- 262 pages
Synopsis- 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.
Review- Given the professional and personal background of the author I am stunned at how bad this book is.
The main character, Leon, is totally unbelievable. He is supposed to be 9 years old at the start of the book but the majority of his thoughts and behaviours are more that of a 4 or 5 year old, at least in the first half of the book. Later his actions become more age appropriate but his thinking is still that of a much younger child. I considered the “regression in bad situations” argument to explain this, but it doesn’t fit. This made it difficult to feel connected to Leon, to the point where I kept forgetting his name, despite the frequent mentions, and the book title!!
This book also seems racist to me. Every non-white character comes across as either really not very bright, or bad in some way. They are violent, thieves, drunks, are in and out of prison etc. All of the “good” people in the book, the social workers and foster parents, are white. There are some white characters that aren’t great, but there are no non-white characters that are particularly good.
The first couple of chapters were actually quite good but things went downhill pretty quickly after that. Not a lot happens for the vast majority of the book, and it is just frustrating, and boring. There is a mildly interesting chapter towards the end of the book but it is like an unfinished thought, there is no conclusion to it, and in the next chapter it is as though it never happened. The writing also isn’t particularly good and just feels a bit lazy. One minute it is as though you are hearing Leon’s thoughts from him, the next minute it’s just a narrator, then it flips back again, there are no proper transitions.
Overall I really didn’t enjoy this book and considered not finishing it, which is something I never do. It’s a shame because it sounded really interesting.