My Name is Leon is a sucker punch straight to your heart. It is a powerful, page-turning debut from Kit de Waal, that really will haunt you for weeks.
The story is told through the eyes of Leon, a nine-year-old boy who loves Curly Wurlys, cartoons and his beautiful baby brother Jake. He is too young to understand the world around him, where adults say one thing but mean another, and try as he might, he cannot protect his family. When their mother falls apart and strangers take Jake away, Leon is devastated.
He vows to bring his family together again, in any way he can. What follows is Leon’s own journey – involving a community of local gardeners, his doting foster mother Maureen, her hilarious sister Sylvia, West Indian political activists, and a social worker known only as ‘The Zebra’.
De Waal 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 expertise on the subject matter is evident, as is her compassion and understanding.
My Name is Leon had me crying within the first few pages. It is powerful and heart-wrenching and packs a punch from the very start. From the very first sentence the reader will fall in love with and empathise with little Leon. De Waal makes each and every character of hers come alive and makes them burrow inside of your heart.
But while it is incredibly sad in places, it is also upbeat and full of hope. Leon possesses the enviable spirit and innocence of a child, and the reader will laugh along with him too. De Waal perfectly captures the strength and courage of the very young that persists even under such harsh circumstances.
An absolute must read, My Name is Leon is a gorgeous, heartbreaking yet ultimately uplifting, story about the power of love, the unbreakable bond between siblings, and the truth about what really makes a family.