A brother chosen.
A brother left behind.
And a family where you’d
least expect to find one.
My Name is Leon is a heartbreaking 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.
I had a good feeling about this book, and had been saving it for a while. I gobbled it up in a day and a half. Leon is nine in 1980 England, he is mixed race, his Mum has baby Jake with another guy and he is white. This does not stand between them in any way, and Leon soon finds himself having to change, feed and look after Jake for longer and longer periods of time as his Mum descends into post natal depression or maybe something else. Leon doesn’t mind too much. He loves his brother and he is good at it, and only goes to Tina Downstairs for help when there is no food and no money left.
Kit De Waal is astounding at getting into Leon’s head, the way he has learned to tell Social Workers what they want to hear, and not believe what any of them say. He distracts himself with Action Man and swiping fifty pence pieces when things get too hard. He is a good, lost child and your heart really breaks for him.
Leon and Jake go to live with Maureen, an older lady who has been fostering forever. I LOVED Maureen. She is no nonsense but wise and loving, larger than life and is always cooking up fabulous grub and endless snacks for the boys. She asks Leon about Jake’s routine and what he does and doesn’t like so she doesn’t get it wrong. She gets out a pad and pencil and writes down two pages of notes on what Leon says ❤
Leon licks the sauce off his fingers and looks around. Maureen’s house smells of sweets and toast and when she stands near the kitchen window with the sun behind her, her fuzzy red hairstyle looks like a flaming halo. She’s got arms like a boxer and a massive belly like Father Christmas.
Maureen is amazing. The boys and the reader trust her implicitly.
Something devastating happens, Jake is adopted. Maureen believes because he is white. Poor Leon trashes his room and starts grinding his teeth in his sleep, and can’t cope very well. There’s a heartbreaking but wonderful chapter where Maureen has to wake him from a nightmare and she sits him down and ‘has words’ about how she knows a thing or two about children.
‘Answer me this. How many children have I fostered over the years? I know you know the answer because I saw you ear-wigging the other day when I was talking to the neighbours.’
Turns out its twenty-two. And including her own children, grandchildren and Leon it’s thirty. She tells him how she knows he will be alright and that he will see his brother again. It might not be until they are adults, but Leon will see Jake again. ‘He hasn’t gone forever.’
Despite this safe environment there are still a lot of trials for Leon and even Maureen. His Mum sometimes doesn’t turn up to see him, he doesn’t hear from her for months. He makes friends with some older men at nearby allotments when he acquires a bike, and for a long time it’s not clear what their motives are and it left me a bit uneasy.
But there is a whole sub-plot about police brutality against black men which I wasn’t aware of, in England in the 80’s. And Tufty, who has an allotment is key to this, and teaching Leon about Black Power, and racism and dignity.
This is a brilliant first novel, so real and genuine and tender. Beautiful stuff, and well worth a read. Book 32 of 2016.