MY NAME IS LEON by Kit de Waal

This book was chosen by one of the girls in our work book club, recently transformed into a house party one.

The story is set in the 1970s and is about a young black boy’s quest to reunite with his beloved white half-brother after they are separated in foster care.

Leon loves chocolate bars, Saturday morning cartoons, and his beautiful, golden-haired baby brother. When Jake is born, Leon pokes his head in the crib and says, “I’m your brother. Big brother. My. Name. Is. Leon. I am eight and three quarters. I am a boy.” Jake will play with no one but Leon, and Leon is determined to save him from any pain and earn that sparkling baby laugh every chance he can.

His mum falls victim to depression and strangers suddenly take Jake away; after all, a white baby is easy to adopt, while a half-black nine-year-old faces a less certain fate. Leon is determined to get Jake back by any means necessary. His journey will take him through the lives of a doting but ailing foster mother, Maureen; Maureen’s cranky and hilarious sister, Sylvia; a social worker Leon knows only as “The Zebra”; and a colorful community of local gardeners and West Indian political activists.

Told through the perspective of nine-year-old Leon, too innocent to entirely understand what has happened to him and baby Jake, but determined to do what he can to make things right, he stubbornly, endearingly struggles his way through a system much larger than he can tackle on his own. 

I struggled a bit with this book as I found it a bit impersonal. It annoyed me so much reading “Leon said…” “Leon did…” Leon went…” – I wanted the struggle, the feeling, the drama and tears and couldn’t find them. Don’t get me wrong, I loved the story and all the incredible characters Leon meets along the way. I wanted him to find his brother and I wanted that “happily ever after” but I guess, in reality there is no such happy ending when you talk about foster care system and a white baby being chosen for adoption before a nine year old black kid.

It pained me to read about his inner struggle and his love for his mother – a bond and love that would not exist if he was an adult. He just wants his mum. No matter how broken and unfit she is. Leon is the adult in the family. He is willing to take care of her and his baby brother only to be with them again. He doesn’t care about childhood and all the joys of it. And it’s sad thinking that such cases actually exist in reality.

My Name Is Leon is a vivid, gorgeous, and uplifting story about the power of love, the unbreakable bond between brothers, and the truth about what, in the end, ultimately makes a family.

My book club girls disapproved of my opinion and argued with me. They just said I read it all wrong. I found it impersonal because I haven’t looked at it from a nine year old perspective. At that age you are not capable of all emotions and rage that come with adulthood. Leon is innocent still and just determined to have a family. He knows he wants his mum and brother no matter what. He cares more about her than his happiness and that says just how much a family means for a child, regardless of how broken or messed up it might be.

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