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My Name is Leon

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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.

272 pages, Hardcover

Published June 6, 2016

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Kit de Waal

23 books338 followers

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5 stars
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Displaying 1 - 30 of 1,154 reviews
Profile Image for Paromjit.
2,502 reviews24.5k followers
August 4, 2016
This is a heartbreaking story told from the perspective of a young child, Leon, and his experience of his family falling apart, social services and foster care in London. It begins with Carol, Leon's mother, giving birth to baby Jake. Leon is captivated and enthralled by Jake.

Leon is a bright, intelligent and mature child who finds himself taking care of Carol and Jake by himself. Carol is unwell and experiencing mental health issues. Leon's bond with Jake is incredibly strong, he is acutely observant of the baby's features, mannerisms and behaviour. However, Carol is hospitalised and the boys are placed in foster care. Baby Jake is adopted and Leon is left with Maureen, his foster mum. Despite Maureen understanding his grief, Leon's world fractures, leaving deep gaping emotional wounds that he is unable to articulate. Events take a turn for the worse as Maureen falls sick and Leon finds himself residing with her sister, Sylvia.

Leon finds himself cracking under the stress as he is still understandably inconsolable about his mum and Jake. He is determined to bring his family back together, whatever it takes. In the meantime, he is gifted a bike which begins to open up the world for him. He finds himself befriended by Tufty and Mr Devlin, who work on allotments. They encourage his interest in gardening and growing vegetables which bring Leon some level of solace. Upon running away to find his family, Leon finds himself caught up in the London riots. Finding himself in danger, Tufty and Mr Devlin help him at great cost to themselves. With Maureen's help, Leon comes to understand his mother is beyond his help and that there is no way she could care for him and Jake.

What Leon finds instead is an alternate family and friends who love and care for him. Maureen is rock solid in her love and support of Leon. In spite of his sorrows and heartbreak, Leon is prevented from a worse fate by the fact that the world has within it people who are prepared to love, help and support him. Writing this novel from a child's point of view could not have been easy yet the author gives us an authentic voice in Leon. There is a social and political commentary that takes in the issues of race of the time in the book. This is a brilliant read even though the issues made me angry and broke my heart. Highly recommended read. Thanks to Penguin Viking for an ARC.
Profile Image for Elyse Walters.
3,849 reviews34.9k followers
June 22, 2016
This book could not have landed in my hands at a better time. I have a young friend who is 13 years old. She lives on the other side of the world from me. For privacy purposes...I'm not going to mention her name....( but she will know)....
I dedicate this review to her! My young friend has had a challenging life but is soooo
inspiring of a young girl...no words are the right words to express how exceptional she is.

I read "My Name is Leon", on the edge of tears much of the time.
I must find a way to say this, 'freshly'... new....as being heard for the first time....( not through numb jaded ears as if heard before):
ITS SAD! Really really SAD!!!! Damn it....
.....I need to say it again....SAD. There is much to feel sad about in this story!
I was angry too...
OMG....as soon as we begin separating siblings....we might as well pull their guts out too....because that 'is' what we do to children.
RULE NUMBER 1,2,3,4 5 6,7, 8, 9, 10..... DO NOT SEPARATE SIBLINGS ....through the foster care system or adoption!!! DON'T DO IT!!!!

Ok... Before some of you kill me... I better lighten up.
Sure, you'll laugh. You're not going to be a sopping wet noodle for 250 pages.
A very skillful author takes care of us.
Lots of warmth - charm- humor- hope and inspiration too!!!!
Oops...I haven't said anything about the story or characters - ( I don't personally think you need to know much). The blurp says enough to get you started.

Leon is a wonderful kid!
Maureen noticed how special he was. She had taken care of around 20+ children at one time or another. Maureen didn't tell most kids that she knew they would - in time- be *OK*. Leon was a *star kid!!! By Maureen recognizing
Leon's inner strength - soulful gifts - she empowered him - directed him onto a path of his BEING ABLE to make things happen. Leon's eyes, and ears were always paying attention. Plus, he was proving to be a critical thinker at a very small age--a kid with enormous integrity.

My wish is that this thin book would be REQUIRED READING to all those who work in social services or the foster care system.
You may think this Iike all other --QUOTE--"Foster Care", stories. That would be just silly!!!! It's not!

There is an experience that shifts the READERS INSIDES .... 'Forever'
in the way, "Me Before You, by Jojo Moyes does.....and "Still Alice", by Lisa Genova does. All these books deal with very different issues... but with each, we come away shifted -- ( something happens to us) ....Kinda 'forever'!

It happens again in "My Name is Leon"
For me...the strongest message ....( and boy...there are many others)...
"DO NOT SEPARATE THE SIBLINGS"!!! It hurts too much! Too big of a price to pay!

A very strong 5 stars
Recommended all adults -Professionals who work 'for' children and families - and mature Teens.

Thank You Simon & Schuster, Netgalley, and Kit de Waal. ( I think you are terrific ....
oh. I peeked at your website after I read your book--- YOUR HOMEPAGE IS WONDERFUL!!!!... I watched that awesome bike ride a few times. You rock!!

Profile Image for F.
294 reviews247 followers
December 14, 2016
Was a sad read.
Thought more was going to come of the end.
Loved the characters.
Heartbreaking at times.
Profile Image for Dem.
1,176 reviews1,066 followers
March 15, 2018
3.5 Stars

An uplifting and poignant read. My name is Leon is a story told by a nine year old boy called Leon and while I am not a fan of child narrators the book was engaging and a worthwhile read.

A short debut novel that I felt had a YA feel to it but I think it is a novel that will resonate with all age levels and readers.
Set in Britain in the early 1980s, Leon is nine years old and brother to Jake who is 9 months old They have gone to live with Maureen after their mother Carol's breakdown, Maureen has fuzzy red hair like a halo, and a belly like Father Christmas. Jake is quickly adopted and Leon is left in the foster care of Maureen and we start to see the and understand the world through Leon eyes and what life has in store for him and Maureen.
This book had so many emotions for me. It is sad, uplifting, painful, funny and sensitive. I preferred the first half really well written and fast paced and the author really knows how to tug the readers heartstrings. The main characters are interesting well drawn and believable. The author really conveys working class Britain of the time very accurately and I really enjoyed some of the throwbacks and all things 80s throughout the story.

A well written thought provoking novel that I think many will enjoy.
Profile Image for Angela M (On a little break).
1,270 reviews2,217 followers
July 7, 2016

I was hooked again ! Another book where the narrative is from a child's perspective and I couldn't resist the opportunity to get an advance copy. Leon, though is a little different from the precocious narrators I've fallen in love with who are sometimes wiser than the adults . This one is about a kid who really isn't quite sure what's happening around him and it's just so sad watching him try to make sense of it all. He may not understand but Leon is smart enough to try and take care of his baby brother Jake when his mother is unable to do so .

It starts out happily enough with the birth of Jake, but it doesn't take long for things to go terribly wrong. It wasn't long before I had that same pain in my gut as I did for Easter and Ruby in This Dark Road to Mercy. These are different stories and Ruby and Easter are kept together and not separated as Leon and Jake are . Separated because it's easier to place a white baby than it is to place an eight year old biracial - half white, half black boy . As adults we know that life isn't fair, but how do you explain to an eight year old boy, who has been abandoned by his father, endured what no child should endure with his mother's mental illness and drug addiction why he can't go with his baby brother to be adopted ?

Maureen, a foster care giver , who takes Leon in, is a favorite character who genuinely cares about what happens to him and the impact of his separation from his mother and brother have on him . When she becomes ill , her sister Sylvia cares for Leon. Time passes and Leon turns ten with no clear plans for his future on the part of Social Services. Leon , on the other hand is very clear about what he wants to do . He will find his brother and his mother and take care of them both. He finds his way to the "allotments", learns to plant a garden and makes friends with Devlin , a former IRA member and Tufty, a West Indian man and activist and things go terribly wrong again as Leon finds himself in the middle of race riots.

This is a commentary on a number of issues : the racism and the riots in Britain in the 1980's , the short comings of the child welfare system, but at its heart it is the sad story of a boy who will steal your heart . The reader shouldn't let the simple language and style and the fact that it reads quickly fool them into thinking that this is not a story of substance . Kit de Waal , describes in an interview which appears at the end of the book "The most challenging aspect was thinking all the time about what is important to a child versus what we as adults notice. .....I tried to simplify the language of the book as much as possible."

The author has intimate knowledge of the story she tells. She's mixed race herself, has two adopted children of mixed race , and has worked in the foster care system for a number of years . I highly recommend this book which most of the time time is heartbreaking, but yet offers us some hope for a little boy named Leon. I can't imagine anyone reading this book and not falling in love with him.

Thanks to Viking/Simon & Schuster and Edelweiss.
Profile Image for Cheri.
1,685 reviews2,240 followers
June 23, 2016

It’s the 1980’s as this debut novel begins; Leon is 8 years old, nearly nine, a mixed-race child whose mother has just given birth to his brother, Jake. Leon’s father is Jamaican, and Jake’s father is white, so Jake has pale skin and pale hair, like his mother. Leon adores his new baby brother from the start, from his tiny perfect toes to his soft, perfect hair, perfect tiny fingers. After Leon, his mother, and Jake go home, Leon helps his mother with Jake, trying to prove how responsible a big brother he is, how he can change his diapers, even remembering the cream to prevent diaper rash. He takes great pride in the bond he has with Jake, as it grows and as Jake grows the way Jake calls out to him.

He’s so good at this, that eventually his mother gives him more and more responsibility. Eventually, days go by, and they’re out of food, and he has to ask a neighbor for help. Leon is still a child, but he isn’t forthcoming with the truth of the situation, trying to get by with asking for money. Once he has money, he can take better care of Jake. Clearly, no one else can do the job as well as he does.

Social workers get involved, placements are made. For a time Leon begins to feel safe in the home of Maureen, a caregiver, a “temporary” home, at least for Jake. Jake’s got the white skin and the blonde hair that makes him a premium candidate for adoption, while Leon, with his light chocolate skin and hair like his father’s at the “too-old” age of almost nine is considered “unadoptable.”

When the reality of this situation hits him, Leon rails against the unfairness of it all. They are BROTHERS. You just don’t do that; you don’t separate brothers, siblings. There’s never going to be a time in their life when their hearts cry at the unfairness of it all. Leon longs for Jake, but more often he’s worried about Jake. Who, after all is going to take care of him when Leon isn’t there? He knows in the deepest part of his heart that Jake’s heart is breaking, searching for Leon. Leon was his world; Jake knows this because Jake is Leon's world.

Poignant, thought-provoking, heart-breaking story about brothers, the importance of family, friendship, and how families are made from more than just blood, sometimes they are entirely made out of love.

Pub Date: 6 June 2016

Many thanks to Simon & Schuster, NetGalley and to author Kit de Waal for providing me with an advanced copy for reading and review.
Profile Image for Esil.
1,118 reviews1,323 followers
July 15, 2016
An enthusiastic 4+ stars! My Name Is Leon hit just the right emotional punch. Set in the late 1970s in England, this book is told from 9 year old Leon's perspective. He is half black, living with his single mum and 1 year old brother. His mum is not up to the task of looking after her kids, so Leon looks after his brother and eventually they move into foster care with Maureen. And the rest of the book focuses on Leon's longing for his imperfect lost family and his actual life in foster care. I loved Leon and his perspective on what was going on -- alternating between disbelief, anger, wisdom, naïveté, hope and sadness. I loved all the other characters de Waal has created -- many were far from perfect -- but none were all bad. I loved de Waal's depiction of the time period -- the effects of racism intermingled with fascination over Charles and Di's upcoming wedding. There's something about the way Leon's story is told that had me completely emotionally invested and satisfied -- I cried a lot but in the end I wasn't left sad or feeling bruised because de Waal ultimately suggests that amongst all the muck that can befall a person, people find ways to cope and form alternative bonds and families. It's all a tad tidy, but it did really strike all the right emotional chords for me. Thank you to Netgalley and the publisher for giving me an opportunity to read an advance copy.
Profile Image for Jennifer.
350 reviews388 followers
August 2, 2016
A moving, insightful book about two brothers -- one with black skin, one with white skin -- and their movement through the foster care system in England during the 1980s.

Leon, the title character in Kit de Waal's latest book, has shouldered more responsibility than any 10 year old should. Try as he might to be the best caretaker for his infant brother, and his mentally unstable mother, social services soon splits up the family. Leon learns the hard truth that while there are families willing to adopt a white baby, like his brother, he will likely live out his childhood and teen years in the foster care system.

This book is a poignant look at the fragile nature of kids in unstable situations, their desperation to just belong, and hope that maybe if they can just be "good enough" their family can get back together. It also shows the power of love and how "family" isn't necessarily the group we were born into.

Thank you to NetGalley and Viking for a galley of this book in exchange for an honest review.
Profile Image for ReadAlongWithSue .
2,634 reviews170 followers
May 22, 2020
This book should go to every single Social worker and all those in the welfare of children out for fostering or adoption.

Do not break up siblings, just don’t do it.

This story is told through the eyes of a young boy who is broken, and can’t explain his feelings, wants, needs and desires. He just doesn’t own the vocal words yet.

This broke my heart into zillions of pieces until the author could lighten it again with hope and experiences, expectations and reality through the eyes of a child then through the eyes of me, the reader.

Many have read this book already, this one slipped through my net.
If you’ve not read it, get the tissues.
Profile Image for Hilary .
2,154 reviews393 followers
March 13, 2019
Leon has a baby brother, a mum who can't cope and a dad who has walked out. The story is set in the 1980's and gives you a taste of social history of the time, poverty, racism, police brutality and social services just not getting it right. Leon is a lovely kind boy and during the story you really want things to work out for him, he is wonderful to his baby brother, despite the awful circumstances there are some wonderful people who help him. Leon has some perceptive observations of peoples facial expressions, how true some adults underestimate a child's ability to see through false gestures. Some lovely references to cheese triangles, curly wurlys and toffos and other 80's delicacies.
Profile Image for Julie.
Author 6 books1,663 followers
November 8, 2016
A tender, beautifully rendered narrative that captures the voice and perspective of a vulnerable child with intelligence and clarity. Leon is nine, the son of Carol, a broken young white woman, and a disappeared West Indies man. He is also a doting and careful big brother to baby Jake, stepping into the role of caregiver as his mother slides into catatonia.

After Carol has a mental breakdown, brought on by drugs, prostitution, and the massive weight of poverty, Leon and Jake are placed in foster care. Jake—cuddly, white (Leon and Jake share a mother, but have different fathers)—is easily adopted. Leon, heartbroken, must navigate the world alone.

But the beauty of this lovely and loving novel is the hope Kit de Waal offers. Resilience and human kindness are recurring themes, even if those humans who extend a hand are deeply flawed. Despite being caught up in an overburdened social service system, Leon is lifted by the warm embrace of his foster mother, Maureen and her crusty sister Sylvia, and by the gentle instruction of Tufty, a West Indies man who gardens at a public allotment, and his rival, Mr. Devlin. de Waal maintains a taut thread of tension that shadows the story in wobbly dread, and I won't relieve that tension here, but ultimately this novel shines with redemption.

Set against the backdrop of Britain in the early 80s, when Irish republican hunger strikes and the police brutality against people of color sparked riots, My Name is Leon is also in intensely political book. The reader sees this world through Leon's eyes, a child who is a keen observer of things he doesn't understand but works diligently to sort out.

Gentle, intelligent, thoughtful and compassionate, this novel was a joy to read. Highly recommended.
Profile Image for Aditi.
920 reviews1,320 followers
May 18, 2016
“Mum used to say we were the same soul split in two and walking around on four legs. It seems unnatural being born together and then dying apart.”

----Melodie Ramone

Kit de Waal, an English author, pens her debut poignant, deeply touching story in her new book, My Name is Leon that unfolds the story of a young boy who after his mother's unfit condition to take care him goes into foster care along with his newly born brother, only to be separated from his brother because of adoption. But he needs to find his younger brother and to hold on to him, because he is the only thing that matters to him in a world with no parents or home. Will he be able to find him?


A brother chosen. A brother left behind. And the only way home is to find him.

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 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.

Leon is a nine-year old mixed race boy with a dark skin and curly hair. Leon is soon introduced to his newly born brother, Jake, who is a perfect little baby for him. Only difference between the two siblings in their skin color, Jake is white, because his dad is a white man unlike Leon's father. But after Jake's birth, Leon's mother falls sick and is unable to take care of both her boys and hence Leon and Jake are sent away to live with a foster carer, Maureen, who looks funny to Leon. Maureen is a good woman who takes care of the both boys and Leon is happy to be with Maureen as he has his little brother with him. But Leon can hear the whispers about Jake being adopted into some family who only prefer white kids and it is not long before Jake is taken away from Leon's life. Will Leon be able to protect his little brother as well as his sick mother?

In the beginning, I could not believe that this book is Kit de Waal's debut book as she has penned it like some pro author mixing the story with myriad of emotions that can deeply touch the hearts of the readers. The author's writing style is exquisite and simple and easy to comprehend with, as the author captures the voice of a 9-year old boy through her coherent narrative that will keep the readers engaged to the very core of the story. The pacing is smooth and swift as Leon's adventure turns thrilling and exciting with each turn of the page.

The brotherly connection plays an important role in this story as Leon tries to take care of his baby brother, Jake. He realizes that his responsibility of a big brother is to protect Jake with his life and no matter how hard it becomes, he will keep Jake safe. But when Jake is put into adoption, Leon does not loses hope, as he starts stealing coins so that he could someday rescue Jake from his new adopted family. Not only that, Leon also wants to take care of his sick mother, who is unfit to take of her sons. The author strikingly portrays the blood relationships into her story line.

The author paints the background of the story in the early 19th century Britain, by arresting the then social and cultural norms and changes and the people and their demeanor in those times and the whole atmosphere of the eighties, thus the readers will feel like transported back in time and place. The author not only stops there as she depicts the adoption norms of those era and the foster care picture of that time.

The characters of this book are really well-portrayed with realism. The primary character is of a 9-year old black kid, Leon, who is brave and quite mature unlike his tender age, as he is pushed into a world of responsibilities right from his childhood days. Leon is an obedient boy who listens to his elders and that makes him so loving in the eyes of the immediate strangers like Maureen who easily warmed up to him. But Leon can punish the elders when he figures out that they have been lying to him, by stealing their petty stuffs. Leon is an evocative character whose striking demeanor makes him appealing and will forever be remembered by the readers even after the end of this sad, yet beautiful story. The author captures his sadness, his dreams and goals with so profundity that will keep the readers easily feel for him.

In a nutshell, the story is not only poignant but also gripping and will make the readers think about it even after the end of this heart-breaking story about a brother.

Verdict: A must-read cute, moving and stunning story of brotherly affection.

Courtesy: Thanks to the author, Kit de Waal's publicist for giving me the opportunity to read and review an ARC copy of this book.

Profile Image for João Carlos.
646 reviews277 followers
March 23, 2017

Adorei o Leon...

"O Meu Nome É Leon" é um daqueles livros que se lêem com o coração nas mãos e uma lágrima no canto do olho.

Kit de Waal (n. 1960) nasceu em Birminghan, trabalhou durante cerca de quinze anos em direito familiar e penal, foi conselheira dos Serviços Sociais sobre inúmeros processos de adopção e acolhimento, e é filha de um pai caribenho e de uma mãe irlandesa, que era uma “mãe de acolhimento.
Conhecemos Leon no dia 2 de Abril de 1980, está no hospital e uma enfermeira pousa-lhe o seu irmão recém-nascido nos braços; tem oito anos e nove meses, nasceu a 5 de Julho de 1971, e a sua mãe chama-se Carol.
Leon preferia que o seu irmão se chamasse Jack mas a sua mãe prefere Jake.
A sua mãe está sempre a chorar…
E Leon e o seu irmão Jake acabam por ser entregues temporariamente a Maureen, uma encantadora e amorosa “mãe de acolhimento”.
E eis que surge o inevitável e somos confrontados com algumas questões determinantes no sistema de adopção, entre as quais - a idade e a cor racial -, e aí Leon começa a perceber que algumas ”(…) pessoas são horríveis e porque a vida não é justa, (…).” (Pág. 57)
O “pequeno” Leon vai aprendendo e crescendo com as adversidades da vida; nas suas rotinas diárias e na escola, mas é numa horta comunitária que encontra um grupo de homens e mulheres heterogéneo – emigrantes de diferentes nacionalidades e costumes – que tratam das suas pequenas hortas, pequenas parcelas de terra exemplarmente tratadas e mantidas. Para Leon aquele espaço vai-se tornando um refúgio, mas, simultaneamente, um território de aprendizagem, incluindo, as questões agrícolas. Contudo é, igualmente, nesse lugar que Leon presencia as injustiças e a repressão policial, o que vai aumentar a sua dor e a sua raiva pela segregação racial, o que culmina nos motins e nos tumultos raciais em 1981, em Birminghan.
O que achei fascinante na narrativa de ”O Meu Nome É Leon” é que o enredo, por vezes, vai evoluindo de acordo ou em consonância com um dos “vícios” do Leon – escutar sem autorização as conversas dos adultos, “ouvir às escondidas” -, sem que devido a múltiplos factores as consiga apreender ou compreender na sua génese ou na sua totalidade.
Kit de Waal explora admiravelmente algumas consequências desse comportamento, nomeadamente, a arbitrariedade e a complexidade das atitudes de Leon, no fundo, uma criança cheia de energia e de vida, que nem sempre compreende o desenrolar do dia-a-dia ou das atitudes dos adultos que o rodeiam, em relação a múltiplas questões como: a diferença racial, o sistema de adopção e de assistência social, a parentalidade, a doença mental, a responsabilidade familiar, e muitos mais.
"O Meu Nome É Leon" é um daqueles livros que se lêem com o coração nas mãos e uma lágrima no canto do olho.

Maureen para Leon:
"- Oh, há quanto tempo eu precisava de um bom abraço, oh se precisava. É melhor do que todos os comprimidos do mundo." (Pág. 243)
Profile Image for PattyMacDotComma.
1,365 reviews784 followers
August 6, 2021

Talk about having the deck stacked against you. England, 1980. Leon’s mum, Carol, has had two boys to different fathers. His walked out when she was pregnant with his baby brother, Jake, whom he adores.

Jake’s father is married, and Leon overhears him refuse to have anything to do with Carol or the baby. Carol loses the plot and accuses Leon of being the reason Jake’s father shot through.

“Carol used to say sorry when she shouted at him but she forgets all the time these days so tomorrow he will take twenty pence out of her purse. Twenty pence will buy him a Twix on his way back from school and he will throw the paper on the ground because he doesn’t care.”

That’s exactly how kids think. You don’t care about me, so I’ll show you - SO THERE!

Leon takes care of infant Jake as mum sinks into a bed-ridden breakdown. He changes nappies, makes formula, and keeps him happy, all the while feeding himself and trying to get his mum to get out of bed.

He’s only 8 years old, for Heaven’s sake, and he’s managing a household. . . until he runs out of food, nappies and money. His mum’s girlfriend discovers the squalor in their flat and calls Social Services.

“Leon opens the door wide. They all look at him. Social workers have two pretend faces, pretend Happy and Pretend Sad. They’re not supposed to get angry so they make angry into sad. This time they’re pretending to care about him and Jake and his mum.”

Thus begins the next phase of Leon’s growing up. Maureen is a cheery, round foster carer who takes a shine to these two, but baby Jake is white, adoptable and in demand, so off he goes to a new family. Oh yeah, sorry, Leon. You’re older and too dark, but here’s a nice photo of you both to remember him by.

Like a lot of kids, he listens to adult conversations when they think he’s busy playing or watching TV, so he picks up bits and pieces and concludes he’s a nuisance and nobody cares about him.

All he wants is to fill his rucksack with important worldly goods and find his little brother.

Unbeknownst to his foster carer, he begins hanging around the allotments, where people have patches of land to grow veggies and build little sheds. He doesn’t think they care about him either, but it’s kind of fun with a real mixed bag of characters. He gets a taste of freedom and of what it is to be a black kid when there are street riots.

It’s a poignant, believable look into the heart of a young boy who just needs a place to belong. I think Young Adults would relate to this, too.

Thanks to NetGalley and the publisher, Penguin Books UK, for my advanced review copy. I look forward to more from this author.
Profile Image for Barbara.
1,636 reviews26 followers
June 16, 2017
Leon is a 9-year-old boy in 1980's London. His mother, who is on her own, has a new baby. Leon is biracial. His mother and brother are white. Leon is a loving, gentle boy who does his all for his mother as she slips into post-natal depression. As things deteriorate, social services come in and Leon and his brother are put in foster care.

Maureen, the foster mother, is a working class woman, middle-aged, and not in great health. She is affectionate and cares deeply for the boys. Rather that get into more details of the story, I will let you discover it for yourself. This is a London when people were poorer, the working class "just got by", and racial and ethnic tensions were growing.

Kit de Waal, the author, is the daughter of an Irish mother and a Caribbean father. She worked for a number of years in child services, so this is a world she knows. This book has been much lauded, and deservingly so. Leon is a boy you won't forget You will worry about him and hope he makes it through some of the people and events that cross his path.
Profile Image for Jülie ☼♄ .
475 reviews22 followers
April 4, 2016

Kit De Waal has really got a good perspective on the kind of thoughts that go through the mind of a child and their particular reactions to things that upset them...

Leon was a good boy, he did what he was told and what he thought was expected of him. So when grown ups did things that he perceived as wrong or unjust, he punished them by taking something from them or by not doing something the way he knew was right...this gave him a sense that some small measure of fair justice had been served and a sort of balance restored.

Told from the perspective of nine year old Leon who's mother has just had a baby.

Leon's brand new little brother is perfect in every way, from his tiny little fingers to his tiny little feet.
Only after washing his hands does the nurse allow Leon to carefully hold his baby brother, and Leon is filled with awe at the sight of him, and pride at the weight of his new responsibility as a big brother.
When they go home Leon does everything he can to help his mother look after his baby brother because he wants to show that he is a trustworthy and responsible big brother.
He quickly learns how to change nappies and warm the milk just right for feeds.
He studies his little brother so closely, learning everything about his particular needs, so that he even knows his sleeping patterns and other tell tale expressions of need.
This is a big help for his mother because she is not well after having the baby and needs his help more and more.

Leon loves his little brother so much, his mother had promised he could name him after one of his favourite tv heroes but now she says his name will be Jake...which is not the name he chose... That is the first broken promise.

Jake has a different father and that is why he has white skin and fair hair like their mother.
Leon's skin is dark like his father's but a bit lighter because it has some of his mother's white mixed in too. He has his mother's freckles and his father's hair.
Leon's dad has been gone a long time...he got sent away again so things have been a bit hard for them and he has learned how to be a big help to his mother.

Leon knows that Jake's dad is married to someone else, but his mother knows that when he sees the new baby he will want to come and live with them and be their father...only, Leon overheard him at the front door shouting at his mother to leave him alone and stop calling him, and he won't even look at the baby, and now his mother is even more unhappy and crying a lot.

This is a very sad, sometimes funny, thought provoking story about how it is that the existence of one little boy can unwittingly be the catalyst for a chain of events that would alter the course of several peoples' lives in various ways...none more than his own.
And yet as each domino fell, Leon himself recognized its guilty part in the breakdown of his right to the life he belonged to, and as hard as he tried he was powerless to prevent it.

Many thanks to NetGalley and the publishers for my copy to read and review.
Profile Image for Noeleen.
188 reviews132 followers
April 11, 2018
Set in the 1980’s in England, My Name is Leon tells the heartbreaking story of two young brothers, one black, one white. When Carol, Leon and Jake’s mother can no longer care for them, Jake is adopted, Leon is not. We travel through this story, which centers on adoption and fostering with Leon and experience the journey from his perspective. We can feel his helplessness, his vulnerability and his utter sadness. We pine for baby brother Jake with Leon and we experience Leon's struggle for acceptance and some form of normality and stability in his life. Although this is an easy read, it is a poignant one with engaging credible characters and some moments of humour. I loved Maureen’s character. Although it is a short read, it certainly packs a punch. Overall, My Name is Leon is an emotional, thought-provoking and well written debut which will pull at your heartstrings.

My thanks to Penguin Books (UK) and NetGalley for the opportunity to read and review this book
Profile Image for Hugh.
1,251 reviews49 followers
March 3, 2020
I read this for a discussion in the 21st Century Literature group.

Compared with most of my recent reading it felt a little lightweight, but it is an enjoyable read, and quite moving in places. The book is set in 1980 and 1981, against the backdrop of the royal wedding and the Brixton riots, and it clearly owes much to de Waal's own experiences working in social services.

At the heart of the book is Leon, a young mixed race boy. Leon lives with his white single mother, who has recently had another child, Jake, with a white father. He has already been fostered a couple of times, so when the mother succumbs to depression and addiction again he tries to look after her and his baby brother alone. When the social services get involved, they are both adopted by Maureen, a veteran of many foster placements who becomes the rock at the heart of Leon's story. Against her will, Jake is taken away to be adopted by another family, but Leon still hopes that he and Jake can be reunited with his mother. When Maureen is hospitalised with a stroke, Leon is taken in by her sister Sylvia.

Leon develops a friendship with Tufty, a black gardener he meets on a local allotment, and starts collecting what he thinks he needs for his secret plan to rescue Jake and return to his mother. I won't say more about the denouement.
Profile Image for Guy Austin.
109 reviews29 followers
August 10, 2016
Having read a pre-release review of this book I knew it would be one I would enjoy. I have a soft spot for books about children in the position Leon finds himself in. I am not sure why. The last book that I read like this was not fiction, but a memoir by Steve Pemberton, The Book was - A Chance in the World: An Orphan Boy, a Mysterious Past, and How He Found a Place Called Home.

Leon is a 9 year old boy with a baby brother and a mother who cannot find the strength to raise herself up to focus on the needs of her children. Though she does love them and Leon himself seems to be the glue to keep them together. Ultimately they are removed and placed in foster care.

This story is told from Leon’s perspective and it is done well. We hear the typical response of a 9 year old to tough questions and the internal reality of his own inner strength and knowledge. There are social workers and foster parents and adults who impact this little guy trying to make sense of it all. A bike that give freedom to explore the world beyond his temporary home.

We learn of some of the social and political goings on in early 80s England and how it is seen through the eyes of a child. We learn that listening and honesty is a pretty good policy when it comes to kids in “Tough Situations”

Kit De Waal weaves an amazing story. It is one that has the ability to pull at your heart. Make you smile, laugh, cry, ponder, Think and root for the defenseless. I was amazed to learn this was her first novel.

It is a book that leaves you wanting more and for me that is the best kind. The kind that stay with you and make you think for a long while after. This will join my lists of favorites. I thank Kit De Waal for being a great storyteller, and the reviewers who we able to convey the emotions this book spills out into your heart.
Profile Image for Julie.
1,860 reviews38 followers
May 5, 2021
I loved it! I really felt like I entered Leon's world and rooted for him right from the beginning. I cried and hoped for him and despaired when he and his sibling were separated. As an aside, my husband and I were foster parents to a toddler and a baby who shared the same mom. The parents of these children were no longer in their lives and I remember thinking that they only had each other. They were family. A couple came to visit with the view to adopt and were interested in the baby, but not the toddler. I was horrified at the idea of them being separated. Fast forward several months, the toddler and baby were finally adopted together and I was overjoyed! They have remained together in their new family and have a strong bond.

Back to the story, it is beautifully and sensitively written and I loved the characters that come into Leon's life, especially veteran foster mom, Maureen who shows him unconditional love and treats him with dignity, and Tufty who shows him how to grow new life on his allotment. They become chosen family.

The author does an amazing job of describing Leon's emotions and feelings, especially his conflicting emotions. Here is an example:

"Inside Leon's body everything is mixed up, he feels hungry but he also feels full up. His blood is hot and bubbly making him want to run all the time but he's cold and so tired he could curl up on the pavement and go to sleep. He wants to fight. Men and older boys are running in the middle of the road shouting at each other and not noticing him. He wants to fight them all, he wants them to stop and help him."

My favorite quotes are from Leon's time gardening in the allotment:

"Leon put his hands deep into the crumbly soil, it's cool and black underneath and he can squeeze it into a ball."

"Underneath him is a whole world of insect lives that nobody ever thinks about. Leon lies down on the earth and feels them marching and burrowing and finding their dinner, making their nests and bumping into each other."

"He looks up at the pale blue suede sky and closes his eyes. He feels the roots of all the trees and flowers mingling in with one another making a giant web that sucks all the goodness and the rain up into their leaves so they can make apples and roses and all the strange vegetables that grow in the Asian shops."

What a treat to listen to Lenny Henry's lovely voice narrating this poignant story.
Profile Image for Sheena.
470 reviews8 followers
August 22, 2016
I received a free proof copy.The story of Leon and his situation felt all too real. This was quite an emotional read with well drawn characters all trying to do their best and deal with the cards life had given them. None of them were without flaws the main one seemed to be not realising how children have a real talent for making themselves invisible and listening in to adult conversations which can and does in this case lead to all sorts of trouble.Right from the beginning Leon tugged at the heart strings and this reader was rooting for him.The ending was perhaps a little contrived but I was able to forgive the author as I really didn't want it to turn out any other way. Even though the book is finished I have written a few more chapters in my head which sees Leon's future dreams come true.
Profile Image for Tonkica.
609 reviews111 followers
June 9, 2021
Ovo je priča o Leonu, devetogodišnjem dječaku tamnije boje kože koji ima malog skoro jednogodišnjeg polubrata Jakea koji više sliči na njihovu majku nego na njega. Leonov tata je taman dok im je majka Carol svijetle puti. Bez obzira na sve on Jakea voli najviše na svijetu. Osamdesete su godine prošloga stoljeća i boja kože je vrlo bitna. Bitna je i ljubav, obitelj, stabilnost, pogotovo u tim mladim godinama. Leon nije imao sreće da se u to uvjeri. Oduzeti su majci i on i Jake od strane djelatnika socijalne službe te su otišli živjeti kod udomiteljice Maureen. Što im život nosi, kako će se oni s time suočavati pronađite u priči koju nam na svoj dječački iskreno-neiskvareni način priča baš on, Leon.

Cijeli osvrt pronađite ovdje: https://knjige-u-svom-filmu.webador.c...
Profile Image for Puck.
624 reviews294 followers
March 30, 2020
Hmm, tricky. I did enjoy My Name is Leon, but sadly this book suffers from a misleading synopsis.
While it’s true that the first part of the story is about the family problems of Leon, in the second part a greater variety of topics come knocking at the foster-home door. This makes us lose sight of Leon, which is a pity because this kid is a wonderful main character to follow.

Leon is nine years old. He likes Curly Wurlys, the Dukes of Hazzard, but above all his baby-brother Jake. It doesn’t matter that Jake is white and he is black: they are brothers and Leon takes great care of him and their mother Carol, who’s getting more ill every day.
Until the situation gets so dire that Social Services come to take the brothers away and have them stay with Maureen, a foster-mom with a heart of gold. However, when a white couple only adopts Jake, Leon is left on his own to figure out his place in the world.

As I said, Leon is a great main character because he feels so real. The author, Kit de Waal, worked for many years in foster care and it shows because she got so many emotions and personality-traits of Leon exactly right.
Although the third person-narrative does keep us a bit at distance, you completely understand Leon’s growing frustration and distrust of the adults around him. He is a real nine-year-old at heart, but Leon often has to deal with so many problems too big for a child, that the story really becomes heartbreaking to read.

“Leon can go to bed whenever he wants and sometimes he can even go to sleep on the sofa because his mom won’t notice. He can eat whatever he wants but if there’s nothing in the cupboard and nothing in the fridge it doesn’t really count. He has to look after Jake every day and Carol keeps crying and it makes Leon angry with her, but there aren’t even coins to steal out of her purse anymore.”

Yet after the halfway-point of this book, the focus of the story shifts from Leon’s family situation to a lot of different subjects. Apart from showing us the flaws of the foster care system, we get to read about Margaret Thatcher’s policy, the brutal IRA protests during Britain’s early eighties, and the Royal Wedding.
Amidst all that we also see Leon trying to deal with his personal trauma, his problems with his mother, and with what Jake’s adoption says about him and society’s attitude towards people of color (with Leon being biracial and Jake being white). For a book that’s only 262 pages, this all is way too much.

So although I loved Leon and the author’s knowledge of Social Services and foster care really shines through, the plot became too crowded with subjects in the second half of the book.
I wish I’d have given my 250th book a higher rating, but “My Name is Leon” in the end told me too much, and made me feel too little.
Profile Image for Suzy.
748 reviews236 followers
March 26, 2020
I liked this book just as much as the first time I read it, if not more. I felt so tender towards 9-year old Leon who just wants to keep his broken family together and through the skewed logic of a 9-year old, thinks he can make that happen. He can't. Along the way in his journey with foster care, he finds people to relate to and who can help, although at first he doesn't believe it.

Why I'm rereading this: I nominated this for the March group read for the 21st Century Literature group and it was chosen. I'm looking forward to experiencing this again and discuss with others.

Why I'm rereading this: I nominated this for the March group read for the 21st Century Literature group and it was chosen. I'm looking forward to experiencing this again and discuss with others.

This book touched me to my core, tugging at my heart, bringing up feelings of both despair and optimism. I fell in love with Leon, a sensitive nine-year old, son of Carol and doting brother to baby Jake. Sounds like a happy situation, but it's not. Carol is a broken woman, at the mercy of addiction and mental health problems. She cannot care for Leon or Jake. Leon becomes a caregiver to both Jake and his Mom, but he can't overcome her neglect and they are separated. Jake and Leon go into foster care, but Leon operates under the belief that it's his responsibility to get the family back together again where everything will be put right.

This is a story about a young boy who just wants to be loved and cared for. de Waal writes about what she knows (she grew up in a home that fostered children) with compassion and tenderness and is spot on in her rendering of the skewed logic of a child in an untenable situation. I've just embarked on Great Expectations and Pip, the child narrator in that book, says early on ". . . I have often thought that few people know what secrecy there is in the young, under terror." We see this play out over and over with Leon as he misinterprets what he sees, feels at risk, puts himself at risk and spends much of his time hiding his thinking, his plans and what's going on from the people who can help him most.

The chaos that Leon experiences and his misunderstandings are mirrored in the backdrop of the chaos of early 1980's Great Britain of hunger strikes in Ireland and street riots in London. We root for Leon to find his footing and the love and care he greatly deserves. Highly recommended!
Profile Image for Liz.
81 reviews21 followers
December 14, 2017
""You're such a good boy, Leon. I'm sorry if I'm not the best mom. I love you, you know."
That's what the sunshine feels like."

This book had my emotions all over the place. My heart broke for Leon. I felt like slapping some sense into his mother & all the Carols around. Maureen, I loved her nonsense way of talking & her motherly ways of treating Leon.

Maureen has summarized my opinion on Leon & Jake being separated:
"Jake's got a chance, you mean. You've split them up and in my books that's a sin and I won't change my mind on that."

This entire review has been hidden because of spoilers.
Profile Image for H.A. Leuschel.
Author 5 books249 followers
April 15, 2018
Beautifully tender, heart-breaking a times and so sensitive in its descriptions of the inner workings of a young child's mind. I found myself having to stop and rest a few times before I could resume reading because I felt so sad about Leon's anguish and desperate need to be loved. Highly recommended!
Profile Image for Stephen.
1,664 reviews277 followers
December 13, 2017
enjoyed this book based in early 1980's with the backdrop of social unrest and a royal wedding where 9 year old Leon gets separated from his mother Carol and younger baby sibling Jake into foster care and his struggles as he wants his family together again.
Profile Image for Paul.
2,101 reviews
June 7, 2018
It is 1981 and Leon has just acquired a baby brother, Jake. They are living with their mother, Carol, who is struggling as the father of Jake has shown no interest at all in his son. Just how much she is struggling is made very apparent when Leon turns up at a friend of hers asking for money for sweets. Tina goes back home with him to find Carol a nervous wreck and in need of help. As she gets the medical attention that she desperately needs Leon and Jake are placed into care.

Their new 'mum' is Maureen, a red-haired older woman with a heart of gold, but as good as a job as she does with them both, Leon knows that it is not the same as having your mum there. Life is about to change again; Leon is half-cast and Jake is white so social services decide that Jake will be suitable for adoption. Jake is adopted fairly quickly and Leon loses his final family member and feels very alone.

Just when he is at his lowest ebb and doesn't think it can get any worse, Maureen is taken seriously ill and admitted to hospital. Leon moves to her sister Sylvia's house and has another bedroom and routine to get used to. He is now a little older and gets given a bike that means that he can travel and explore the local area. It is on these jaunts out that he discovers the local allotments and the men that frequent this place, Me Devlin and Tufty and the wonders that exist in their sheds. As exciting as these places are, what he really wants is to find Jake and bring them both back to his mum so they can be a family once again.

This heartwarming story deals in a beautiful way with a whole raft of issues from race to identity, belonging and the care systems in the 1980's. It is full of happy and sad moments, as Leon comes up against a care system that didn't want to keep families together at that time. Whilst de Waal has written this story of Leon with passion and care, it is not a sugar-coated tale either. The 1980's references of events and objects are tempered by the visible racial tension in the prose between the police and the local residents. Would highly recommend this to anyone wanting a story from the perspective of most people's lives back in those days.
Profile Image for Lisa.
1,180 reviews
November 3, 2016
This is about a nine year old boy called Leon living in poverty in England in the eighties. His Mum has psychological issues and his Dad is in prison. He has a baby brother called Jake. Leon and Jake have different Dads so Leon is black and Jake is white.
His Mum gets severely depressed which leads to the brothers being taken into care.
I don't want to give away the whole story but it is written from Leon's point of view and it's an extremely moving and honest story.
This book isn't perfect but I gave it 5 stars because Kit has captured nine year old Leon perfectly. I can see everything he's doing and everything he's feeling from his point of view.
The characters aren't cardboard cutouts - they are REAL.
All of Kit's experience has been poured into this book and it shows.
Amazing book that moved me to tears. I don't want to let Leon go.
Extra shout out for the audio version - Lenny Henry narrates and is truly excellent.
Profile Image for Kitty G Books.
1,544 reviews2,931 followers
December 10, 2016
I was gifted this book by the lovely Mercedes for my birthday back in September and I finally found some time (during my ill days off) to read it. I actually read this whole thing in a day as it's a fairly short book and it's a story that I couldn't help but want to keep turning the pages for.

We follow a young boy called Leon and his baby brother Jake. Leon comes from a poor family with a single mother and he's always looked after her but when his new baby brother turns up his mother falls deeper and deeper into depression and it's all Leon can do to look after her, himself and baby Jake. Leon's life is turned upside down when social services get involved and his baby brother is taken away leaving him living alone, without his brother or mother, in foster care.

The thing I most liked about this is the references to prejudice and racial discrimination through Leon's eyes. Leon is only 8 when we first meet him, but we see the work from his POV and therefore he notices that things are different for him than they are for Jake. This is largely due to Leon being mixed-race, and Jake being white and although age is also a factor Jake ends up in a new family whilst Leon is left to deal with his own feelings and problems in care.

The time of this story is the time when rioting in America was beginning and various groups of people were looked down upon for being different (e.g queer, different race/religion etc.) Leon's adventures lead him to encounter nice and nasty people from all walks of life, and being a fairly isolated young boy with problems of his own he connects with and fears many of these people.

I think in the end I felt like this was a really true and accurate portrayal of what a real situation like Leon's may easily become. It was a heart-warming and rage-inducing story at various points and all the more so becuase of how true it could be for so many children both in the past and still today. Leon's story is sad and raw and also happy becuase not everyone is mean and not everyone wants to change him.

Overall a fascinating and wonderful look at what Leon's life might be, and a story I am very glad to have read. I ended up giving this a 3.5*s but I was very, very close to a 4* rating. It's a great little book and a story I think many people can emotionally invest in or relate to somehow.
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