My Name Is Leon

Publisher: Penguin (2nd June 2016)

5/5*

What a beautifully written, moving story.

I have to say that the first thing to attract me to this book was the title – my twenty year old Step-son is called Leon. When I spotted it on Netgalley and read the blurb I was certain it would be a book I would love and I wasn’t wrong.

Leon is nine years old when his baby brother, Jake, is born. Jake has a different Dad though and his Dad isn’t a black man like Leon’s. Set in 1980/81 as the country prepared for the big Royal Wedding, there was still obvious tension between races.

Leon’s Mother, Carol, has mental health issues including severe post natal depression after the birth of Jake and Leon does his best to help out where he can. Circumstances aren’t helped by Jake’s Dad not sticking around. When social services become involved the boys are fostered and placed in the care of Maureen. Leon likes Maureen, but he’s desperate to be back with his Mum. It’s heart-breaking to read the obvious guilt Leon carries on his shoulders. He thinks he should have looked after his Mum better then they would all still be together. Imagine carrying such a massive responsibility at only nine years old! He is determined they will be a family again one day.

We follow Leon’s story as he deals with adjusting to life with Maureen and with losing his baby brother when he is adopted by a new family.

You can feel the bond between him and his mother the odd time she turns up for contact, she just isn’t capable of giving him the care and stability he needs and losing Jake forever has broken her heart. Leon seems very aware of the hole this has left in his mothers world and he’s desperate to fill it. Probably the most heart-breaking line of the book for me (and I hope I’m okay to quote) was….

‘I could be him, Mum,’ he says. ‘You could come back for me and, sometimes, I could be him.’”

Absolutely heart-wrenching!

It’s so sad to think how many people go through what Leon and his family go through. I cannot begin to imagine having to give my children up or being so ill that they were literally better off without me. We can only be glad that at least the stigma surrounding mental health issues is decreasing as time goes on and more people are getting the support they need. It also highlights the importance of good and dedicated foster carers. They do such a fabulous job. Maureen’s commitment to Leon, despite her own health issues, is heart-warming. I loved the relationship she develops with Leon, along with her sister, Sylvia. I also enjoyed the relationships Leon forms with Tufty and Mr Devlin at the allotments.

My Name Is Leon is an emotional and gripping story which I am sure will stay with me for a very long time to come. I feel like I can’t express enough just how brilliant this book is! I will be more than happy to recommend it to anyone.

With many thanks to the Publisher and Author for approving my ARC via Netgalley.

My Name Is Leon will be released on 2nd June and you can pre-order your copy HERE

Description (via Amazonuk) –

A brother chosen. A brother left behind. And a family where you’d least expect to find one.

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 give Jake to strangers. Since 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 heart-breaking 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.

Reviews

Tender and heart-breaking (Rachel Joyce, bestselling author of ‘The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry’)

A beautiful story told with compassion, urgency and wit (Stephen Kelman, author of the Booker-shortlisted ‘Pigeon English’)

Vivid and endearing – a very powerful book (Emma Healey, bestselling author of ‘Elizabeth is Missing’)

Leon is pure goodwill in a wicked world, and he won’t leave you when you put this unique book down. Authentic and beautiful, urgent and honest, this novel does what only the best do: it quietly makes room in your heart. At the end of the story I couldn’t bear to close the book on Leon. I felt I was abandoning him. I wanted to talk about it straight away with someone else who’d read it, and I know a great many readers will feel the same. (Chris Cleave, bestselling author of ‘The Other Hand’)

Beautiful and heartbreaking – I cried buckets of tears for Leon and his family (Cathy Rentzenbrink, author of ‘The Last Act of Love’)

A compelling storyKit de Waal is to be congratulated (Jane Shemilt, bestselling author of ‘Daughter’)

About the Author

Kit de Waal was born in Birmingham to an Irish mother, who was a foster carer and a Caribbean father. She worked for fifteen years in criminal and family law, was a magistrate for several years and sits on adoption panels. She used to advise Social Services on the care of foster children, and has written training manuals on adoption and foster care. Her writing has received numerous awards including the Bridport Flash Fiction Prize 2014 and 2015 and the SI Leeds Literary Reader’s Choice Prize 2014. My Name is Leon is her first novel. She has two children.
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