Monday, June 20, 2016

My Name is Leon - by Kit de Waal: Book Review



Author: Kit de Waal
Publisher: Simon & Schuster
Release Date: July 12th
Page nr: 320

The novel is quirky and at times funny, just what you'd expect from a novel told through the eyes of a nine-almost-ten year old boy. Because his mother is declared unable to care for him and Jake, his little baby brother, Leon is placed in the care of Maureen, a foster carer. She knows a thing or two about raising children, and in her home Leon finds a stable environment where he can be a kid. However, because Maureen's health is deteriorating, she is hospitalized, which means Leon has to move again and ends up living with Maureen's sister, Sylvia. One of the social workers working on his case gifts him with a bike, which enables Leon to move around freely. He discovers the allotments where he makes acquaintances, like Mr. Devlin, an Irish man who was part of the IRA, and Tufty, a West Indian political activist.

Although the description of the novel says the book is about Leon trying to find his baby brother who was adopted, this takes only a small part of the novel towards the end. You don't expect it in the beginning when everything is told through Leon's perspective, but there are various social events that were written about: the inner city riots between the police and the minority groups, or Charles and Diana's Royal Wedding. The social confrontations, zoomed into by the constant conflict between Tufty and Mr. Devlin, draw close attention. I didn't know about these conflicts, and at times these parts of the novel were a bit tedious to read. however interesting to learn about. Another interesting thing to pay attention to is the myriad of social workers designated to a case, how in this novel you get the sense they are all "the bad side", but you have to understand that they try. I especially liked Zebra, as Leon calls her.

The novel is heartbreaking. Just when you think you've read the saddest sentence of the novel, you reach another passage that's more heart-wrenching. There is more than one passage that shows Leon's inability to fully grasp what happens to him and his little brother. I loved how Maureen cared and loved Leon, how she treated him not like another case in a social worker's folder, but like a real child. Despite the care he receives, Leon still wants to live with his mother and little brother, and slowly makes plans to find him. It's interesting how because we see the events from Leon's perspective, we're not as shocked and surprised when we learn of his stealing habit, his interest in weapons, and the plotting that gradually takes up all his energy; it somehow makes sense given his unfortunate history, and it's just a way to cope with things.

The ending is not happy as Leon would expect it, but it's good and what he needs. (He wouldn't have appreciated this sentence, btw.) I was pleased with how the novel ended, it wasn't forced to make things into a happy bow and call it a day.

All in all, I recommend this novel. It is the author's first novel, but it is well-written, the characters are complex, the development of the events is believable - a good novel. 

List of Characters:
Leon - nine year old
Jake - his baby brother
Carol - Leon and Jake's mother
Byron - Leon's father
Mr. Victor Devlin - former IRA soldier, has an allotment
Tufty - Indian, has an allotment
Maureen - foster carer
Sylvia - Maureen's sister
Zebra (Judy?) - social worker

I received an advanced ebook copy of this book from the publisher via Net Galley. All thoughts expressed here are my own.

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