August Book of the month: My Name is Leon by Kit De Waal - Join the author webchat on Wednesday 6 September, 9pm(125 Posts)
Our August book of the month is My Name is Leon, Kit De Waal's brilliant debut about a little boy whose mother is no longer capable of caring for him and his baby brother. Touching and thought-provoking, this novel will tug on your heart strings – and raise questions about family, friendship and identity.
You can find out more about the book. Even if you didn't win a copy, you can grab a copy to read over the summer. Kit De Waal joins us for a webchat at 9pm on Wednesday 6 September
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All completed, fingers crossed! Looks like a great book and being raised in the 80s it appeals for that reason too
I'm half way through My Name Is Leon and it's ok. Not brilliant but certainly readable.
My copy has also arrived and will start reading straight away
Halfway through and really enjoying this so far. I love Kit De Waals style of writing, it flows really well.
Hi @niceandspicey - of course! Glad to have you.
Update on webchat date: we'll be joined for a live discussion of the book by Kit de Waal on Wednesday 6 September, at 9pm. We hope you all can make it
I'm also loving this book. 100 pages in and so emotional already .....
Finished reading. A lovely book and an excellent read. Thank You.
Absolutely brilliant book. I'm on holiday and am half way through.
Many thanks to Mumsnet for a copy of this book. Just completed reading it and shared my thoughts below while it's fresh in my mind. I usually give myself more time first to reflect on the contents, so hopefully I do not do injustice to the book or the author.
‘My Name Is Leon’ is a heart-rending tale illustrating the profound and merciless impact on young children hit with social services intervention and the subsequent foster care process. Set in London during the early 1980’s, we discover how 9-year old Leon and his baby brother Jake come to be fostered. Leon has a different father to Jake. While their mother Carol and Jake are white, Leon is mixed race. Leon’s father Bryon, of black Caribbean origin, is in prison. Jake’s father, Tony, wants nothing to do with Carol or the children. And the mentally ill, chain-smoking Carol is just unable to cope. So the brothers find themselves fostered by Maureen, an older lady with big red hair and even bigger belly. But the brothers are to be separated. Because there is a family who wants to adopt Jake for life. But only Jake. Because Jake is ‘white’. And Leon is not. And it’s difficult for social services to find families willing to adopt ‘black’ children. But Leon has looked after Jake before. He even looked after his mum. So why can’t they all go back to being a family together again instead of being separated?
It is a tale that deserves to be told, and proves a riveting read. The story gains in momentum, evoking a resonant sense of emotion and melancholy, right up to its conclusion. However, the subject matter is such it is always likely to tug at the heart strings. Hence, placing sentiment to one side and adopting a critical eye, there are one or two aspects identified that may have been addressed in terms of narrative composition and quality. While not written in the first person, the story is nevertheless told from the point of view of Leon. The trend of employing a ‘child-narrator’ and a story told in ‘child-speak’ is sometimes indicative of a veiled attempt at masking inferior levels in the quality of the writing. That isn’t wholly the case in this book, but inconsistencies are noted where sometimes the language used is befitting a 5 or 6-year-old, but at other times more complex vocabulary is employed. Additionally, there is a lingering sense of several unresolved subplots by the end. For example, Leon’s thieving habit is never tackled. Did he return all the stolen money and goods? During the confrontation between the police and Afro-Caribbean men, it’s never explained what Mr. Devlin, a white Irish man, was doing there. Or exactly what happened to Mr. Devlin’s family and teaching career in Brazil. And did Tufty and his friends get justice for Castro? Etc.
Having said that, it is a deeply moving and absorbing story, and the book holds itself together very well. The author uses her own personal experiences and knowledge of her work in criminal & family law and adoption panels to good effect. Clearly a lot of hard work has gone into this. An accomplished read.
Thanks very much for my copy of the book.
It was an interesting and quite absorbing read, as I remember all the 1980's events very well, and could relate to most of them.
Loved all the food references, and the toys, the hairstyles, clothes and make-up.
I found it a bit long-drawn out in places and I thought the end was very rushed with everything happening too quickly in the last few chapters.
I would have liked to have found out more about Leon's mother and father.
I enjoyed the 2 allotment characters the most, more than Leon in fact.
I found the book rather anti-social worker and police, but I suppose this was how it was in the eighties; however I think the book dealt skilfully with the underlying racism and cultural tensions apparent at the time.
To sum up, I found "My name is Leon" a sort of cross between Adrian Mole and bits of Dickens, with a smattering of Steinbeck's "The grapes of wrath" thrown in for good measure.
I am loving this book so far - I'm only a few chapters in and it's breaking my heart already but in a good way!
I would never have picked this book myself, so great choice Mumsnet, and thank you Kit for writing it.
The idea of a book with a nine year old's voice and point of view sounded like a gimmick to me but I was wrong.
I found Leon's perspective on adults - particularly social workers, who talk in jargon ('forever family') and euphemisms that would be hard for adults let alone traumatised kids to understand- very evocative and upsetting. It made me cry. The descriptions of adults who claim to listen to children's needs and then ignore unpalatable facts ("Do you like school?" 'No' "OK then") are pretty devastating too.
For me the start of the book when Leon cares for Jake was the best. I also thought Maureen and Sylvia were great characters and great women who understood Leon and loved him in their own way, despite not being perfect parent material on paper.
I wasn't so sure about the allotment sections, and I didn't think being set in the 80s added that much.
What a wonderful book. I knew that it was going to be a tough read when I got to page 49 with a sizeable lump in my throat - and that continued throughout the whole 262 pages of the book.
It's the story of a mixed-race boy in the foster system. And yes, that is an important part of the story. His baby, white, brother is adopted quickly. He is not. Luckily, he is fostered by a wonderful woman, who can see what a lovely, caring boy he is. This doesn't sugarcoat anything about the whole process of fostering. You see how affected Leon is, how sad he is, how he misses his mum and brother. And you can see how unfair it all is.
The author doesn't 'baby-fy' Leon's narrative voice, I could really imagine a nine year old boy saying and thinking these things. The other characters are great as well- Maureen and her sister who develop a serious soft spot for him, Mr Devlin and Tufty from the allotment who look out for Leon. I'll definitely be recommending this book to my friends.
I've just ordered, hoping to be finished in time for the webchat
I really enjoyed this book. It was really cleverly written from the point of view of nine year old Leon. I loved how it conveyed the story from a child's simplistic view without compromising the reader's ability to gather what was really going on. The characters were vivid and Leon's situation was absolutely heartbreaking. In fact when Jake was adopted, I wondered whether I could read on!
What a lovely book. In fact, I had read this last year and enjoyed it then, but I've now re-read it and still utterly enjoyed it. Very clever in that it is written from a child's viewpoint and also that it picks things up that only a child could. All sorts of racism issues were raised without ramming it down your throat, but it sadly reflects the way society often is. Being set in the 80s, political issues of the time are explored and are easily reflect on the situation today as well. Looking forward to the next outing from Kit de Waal.
Thank you for my copy of the book. Initially, I wasn't sure if I was going to enjoy the book - it was very simplistic, but the story was compelling. At some point, couldn't tell you when - the writing developed from being child-like to adult. A great quick read - very emotional. Loved the references & was pure escapism in to my childhood.
Looking forward to the web chat - I hope that there will be more from "Leon" - would be great to see how he turned out xx
Thank you for my copy of the book. An oddly compelling, but sometimes quite a hard read. It felt as though you were having all your emotions tossed and turned in the tumble drier. Awful to think of the family broken up: Jake being adopted but Leon not getting this opportunity. I thought the cultural and racial tensions, together with all the references, really gave you a sense of the eighties. Not a great time for some.
Did you see many children in a similar situation to Leon's, growing up with a mother who was a foster carer? Was this novel to give them a voice?
Do you think you will continue writing 'novels' as opposed to short stories? Are you working on anything at the moment?
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