Nine-year-old Leon, a mixed-race boy born in 1970s London to a depressed and drug-addicted mother, opens Kit de Waal’s mesmerizing debut as he tells his newborn baby brother, Jake, that he will always take care of him. But Jake is white and, being a baby, is much easier to place for adoption than Leon—so when their mother is finally deemed unfit to care for them, the boys are separated.
The author has worked in family law and as an advisor to Social Services, and she has brought that experience to this poignant first novel. My Name Is Leon depicts with agonizing clarity the details of Leon’s plight: He does poorly in school, grinds his teeth and has recurring nightmares, all the while never giving up hope that he will see Jake again someday.
Historical moments are skillfully blended into the story, first with Leon’s foster mother Maureen’s plans for a party to celebrate the upcoming wedding of Lady Diana and Prince Charles. But the overriding theme of de Waal’s provocative, moving novel is the power of love between siblings, and the commitment needed by those who deal with the difficulties inherent in fostering children. Blending elements of The Language of Flowers with a brave child narrator that recalls Emma Donoghue’s Room, Leon’s story is one that readers will not soon forget.