Published by Viking (Penguin Random House) 2016
It’s 1981, a year of riots and royal weddings. The Dukes of Hazzard is on TV and Curly Wurlys are in the shops. And trying to find a place in it all is young Leon.
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, a belly like Father Christmas, and mutters swearwords under her breath when she thinks can’t hear. Maureen feeds and looks after them, and claims everything will be okay.
But will they ever see their mother again? Who are the couple who secretly visit Joke? 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.
Oh my goodness this book nearly broke me. This was a hugely emotional read for me. Kit De Waal has managed to create such vivid, lovable yet flawed characters that will stay with me for a very long time. The heartbreak that Leon has to go through in his young life feels all to real in these modern times, even though the setting for this story is the vividly recreated 1980s. Somehow, though, just as the author is breaking your heart, she manages to warm it at the same time. It is utter magic.
This is a wonderful book about family, whichever form that may take. It is about being different, being accepted and being loved. This book was shortlisted for the Costa First Novel Award in 2016 and deservedly so. Kit De Waal is a huge talent and I can’t wait to see what she comes up with next! 5 stars