The Knackered Parents' Book Club reviews 'My Name is Leon' by Kit De Wall

Hello all. I am writing this review from my sick bed, as a weekend of hot tubs and gin has given me a throat and ear infection. I realise that I have just uttered the words ‘a weekend of hot tubs and gin in all seriousness. I will probably never say those words again. My 35 year old body rejected the whole experience and decided to start an INFECTION. If I was 25 I would have been mildly hungover and drunk some more gin. As it was, we were staying in a room with all three children and the 1 year old decided to start vomiting just as I went up to bed. In conclusion, children are fun THIEVES. I obviously say this with some amount of irony (but I do mean it a little bit…), our relationship with our children is never straightforward. But the love we have for them and the impact we have on them, shaping how they think about themselves and the world around them is monumental. Our latest book made me want to be a better parent and protect them and cherish them that little bit more.

My Name is Leon is about a young boy named Leon, who lives with his mum and his baby brother Jake. With his mum, Carol, unable to look after them, Leon takes on more and more responsibility for Jake. This story follows Leon into the care system and shows the devastating consequences of being torn away from everything he knows. At such a young age having to question his identity, his worth and sense of belonging is a painful read.

The novel is set in the 80s, at a time of class struggle and racial conflict. The mistrust for authority and the police is a theme that runs throughout the novel. When plain clothed police officers come to the allotment Leon is made to question yet another figure of authority failing to live up to his expectations. ‘Leon has been told over and over always to ask a policeman for help but these policemen didn’t even have uniforms on and they didn’t give Castro a chance.’ The setting creates a stark backdrop to Leon’s situation. There is an atmosphere of mistrust and bubbling violence.

Leon is an example of the discrimination that Tufty and others were trying to fight against. Leon’s mum is white, his dad is black, but his brother Jake has a different dad, who is white. While staying with the foster carer Maureen, a family is preparing to adopt Jake, who is ten months. Leon wants to know why. ‘’Because, love. Just because. Because he’s a baby, a white baby. And you’re not. Apparently. Because people are horrible and because life isn’t fair, pigeon. Not fair at all.’ The juxtaposition of the statement ‘Because he is a baby’. A white baby’ with ‘And you’re not’, is just heart-breaking. It says to Leon in no uncertain terms, that he isn’t good enough, he isn’t what people are looking for, he isn’t worth being loved.

I found the separation of Leon and Jake really hard to read, especially because you got a sense of how powerless Leon was and how devastating it was for him. The novel is written in the third person limited, it follows Leon closely throughout and is very effective in conveying the whole situation from a child’s point of view. Leon asks Maureen on the morning that Jake is being taken, ‘Am I going with him?’ You can see from this question how confused Leon is. It also makes you see the situation through the innocence of a child. Why wouldn’t he be going with him? Leon has practically raised Jake and they mean the world to each other. He just can’t quite get his head around the idea that adults, who he is supposed to trust, would do this to him.

Leon is vulnerable; all children are vulnerable and it is our job to protect them. I was left with a feeling of sadness that so many children have to go through similar situations. 70,720 children are in care in the UK. Every child should be valued and loved. It made me want to be a little bit more patient (and drink a little bit less gin).

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