Lead Review (My Name is Leon)
- Book: My Name is Leon
- Location: England
- Author: Kit de Waal
This novel is convincingly set against the backdrop of 1981, when Curly Wurlys were a thing, BMX bikes were the must-have item for youngsters, sporadic street riots were brewing and, in stark contrast, the pomp and circumstance of the build up to the Royal Wedding was revving up.
This is the moving story of two small brothers, Leon (nearly 10) and baby brother, Jake, who are being looked after by their mother Carol. She is struggling to care for them. Her lack of mothering ability means that Leon has to step up to the plate and eke out an existence for the three of them. She overdoses on prescription drugs and social services have to step in, at first placing the children temporarily into the care of Carol’s friend, and then taking the unbelievable decision to solely foster out Jake and leave Leon behind. Jake is white, Leon’s father was black, the difference in their skin colour seems to predicate their future.
Leon finds himself lodging with Maureen, missing his baby brother but trying to bed down into his new life. This is a terrifically poignant depiction of a young child acting out his hurt, rejection and loss and, once given a bike, he is off on his travels. He finds himself in the local allotments and starts to build friendships with the older gardeners there. At this point my anxiety for his welfare, at age nearly 10 and amongst adult strangers, began to grow, I couldn’t shake those feelings off, just in case there was a predator amongst the adults.
In the second half I felt that – in contrast to the very strong and focussed narrative in the first half – the author struggled to round off the story with the superbly competent style evidenced early on. I was very involved with the early days’ story of Leon and Jake, but in the second half the narrative evolved into a maze of storytelling. I nevertheless still came away feeling this was an evocative and poignant story that really had something to say about the erroneous decisions made on behalf of children and the consequences, about prejudice, about history and about learning to accept the status quo. It is truly heart rending in parts and there is a lot to recommend this novel.
The setting isn’t particularly specific but it has a very English feel of the early 1980s.