Review: My Name is Leon by Kit de Waal

My Name is Leon by Kit de Waal (uncorrected proof copy)

Title: My Name is Leon
Author: Kit de Waal
Genre: Contemporary
Source: Publisher
Publisher:  Viking (2nd June 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 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 Britain in 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.

Rating: **** (4 stars)

MY NAME IS LEON is the debut novel by Kit de Waal. It tells the story of nine-year-old Leon, in early eighties Britain who ends up living with Maureen when his mum can’t cope after the birth of his baby brother Jake. The story focuses on Leon’s story as he struggles to cope with the changes in his life.

I really liked this book. There were times when I was a bit undecided, but on the whole I really enjoyed de Waal’s story; at times I found the narrative to be a little slow. I appreciated the references to broader events in London in the early 1980s that dotted the narrative – it really helped to cement the feel of the time, and although I grew up a decade later than Leon there was still a bit of familiarity to the narrative. De Waal did a good job of capturing Leon’s love for his sibling, which was very apparent through the narrative. I wish there was more of the book, that we could see more of Leon’s story. Not because the ending was unsatisfying, I actually think it worked very well, but because I want to know more of what happens to this little boy.

MY NAME IS LEON tells the story of Leon after the birth of his younger brother, when things start to fall apart. Leon is an interesting and lonely character. He’s quite bright and is very loyal. His love for his mother and brother was lovely to read about. De Waal does a brilliant job with the secondary characters. Maureen is also an interesting character. I enjoyed watching her relationship with Leon grow as the book progressed. Adults play a large role in this book, which helps emphasise how isolated Leon is, and how little control he has. I enjoyed his easy friendship with Tufty.

The plot of the book is fairly simple, and I think this actually works well. Rather than have a complicated plot, de Waal instead focuses on Leon’s emotional journey through the book. This journey is also mirrored by events in the book. I don’t want to go into too much detail, as always, because of spoilers. I do want to say, however, that I think de Waal told Leon’s story with great skill and it felt realistic. Although there weren’t many surprises in terms of the plot, I still found MY NAME IS LEON to be a gripping read.

If you enjoy contemporary fiction (and I know calling it contemporary is a bit of a stretch seeing as it’s set more than thirty years ago, but I honestly cannot think of a better term and/or genre) with a realistic twist then this very well might be the book for you. MY NAME IS LEON explores familial bonds and what it takes to be a family.

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