My Name is Leon. By Kit De Waal
This was a lovely book. It also truly resonated with me personally as my own baby sister was born in 1981 and although our parentage was infinitely more conventional and stable than that of Leon and baby Jake, I remember when I first became aware of the need to protect and nurture her. I cannot imagine what it would have been like to endure what Leon did!
I was very impressed with the subtle and nuanced approach to the blatant racism of the period. Leaving two brothers separated, one heart broken and (arguably) six lives changed irrevocably the damage is mirrored graphically by the unrest that seemed to explode in London in the early eighties.
Seen through the prism of a child’s eyes, prejudice is played out before Leon whilst his own life is turned upside down and his grief and frustration at the adults he is meant to trust, is juxtaposed against some of the biggest events of the year. The petty squabbles and empty posturing in the group of outsiders he meets at the municipal allotments are in contrast with the volatility of The Brixton riots, erupting between dissatisfied Black men who felt marginalised and the police . These clashes are spectres in the periphery of the main plot and eventually these skirmishes become integral to the final explosive release of Leon’s pent up aggression and frustration born of the inertia of officialdom to give him peace and serenity.
Even that infamous fairytale Royal wedding becomes part of Leon ‘s tumultuous journey of adjustment through abandonment, loss , resentment and eventually acceptance.
I felt a mixture pity and pride for little Leon, who was forced to be a man too often when what he truly needed was to be was a little boy. I wish he had been able to enjoy being a big brother, to get to know Jake and feel the unconditional love of a mother. He was a little scrapper, and even when he is being bad, there is a inherent goodness in him that brought a lump to my throat often.
Kit De Waal cleverly weaves in so many references that any child of the eighties will secretly thrill at, Star Wars, Action man and BMX all give this heartfelt story a grounding in the decade that shaped me, but this is a book that anyone can enjoy. The characterisation is brilliant in my humble opinion.
There are no real villains in this piece, every single one of the people who come into Leon’s sphere have difficulties, and troubles. All are trying their best to make the most of a bad situation. The social Services are depicted sympathetically and the Foster Care system gets a generous boost from the positive way that Leon’s awful situation is made better by kind, down to earth people.
I did not want to stop reading the book and I was awfully sad to see it end. When you miss characters when you have read the last few pages of a book, you know it is a great book. This story made me angry, sad and nostalgic and I absolutely loved it.