Review of My Name is Leon by Kit de Waal

My Name is Leon Book Cover My Name is Leon
Kit de Waal
June 2, 2016

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.

This book by Kit de Waal has a simple feel to it told from the perspective of Leon aged 8 at the start of the book. He lives with his newly born brother and his mother in 1980s Britain. He loves his brother and his mother however he increasingly finds himself caring for both of them. While the nature of his mother’s problem is not specified at the time mother is certainly not well. I could almost argue that this is the “good” part of the story as things go fairly steadily downhill from this point for Leon.

I’ve always found books that are written through a child’s eyes tread a difficult path. Enough knowledge is needed to get the storyline over – too much may well make the voice of the child seem wrong. For me this book managed that problem fairly convincingly. The book follows Leon’s life for a while and at times I simply found it heart rending – if his life makes him a little angry and affects his behaviour it is not surprising at all.

I did find Leon convincing as a character. I also thought the other main characters in the book were very well written and convincing too. If some of the bit part players are a little lacking in dimension I was happy that that was just how Leon saw them – minor players in his life. Almost throughout this book there was an underlying sense of dread. This did not make for a miserable read at all though – simply very rich in atmosphere. I really did love 90% of this book and read it very quickly – I kept finding it on my mind when I’d put it down. My only reservation is the last 10% roughly. I simply found the ending wasn’t quite what I was after or expecting I guess. My views on the ending do not change the fact that I think this is a very good book indeed and particularly for a first novel. I’d like to read another book by Kit de Waal.

Note – I received an advance digital copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for a fair review