Book of the Month: My Name is Leon
In her brilliant debut, Kit de Waal draws on her own experiences working with foster carers and children to write the story of Leon, 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 put a wry smile on the faces of those raised in the '80s
About the book
Leon is nine years old and when his tiny little brother is put into his arms in the hospital, he immediately falls in love. As his mother Carol nips out of the hospital for a cigarette, he's left for the first time to look after baby Jake, and back home it soon becomes apparent that it won't be the last time. Carol becomes increasingly unfit to look after her young sons and eventually Leon and Jake are taken to a new home to live with foster carer Maureen. Although the new setup is strange at first, the brothers are well looked after and feel safe. But when a couple secretly start visiting Jake, Leon is left wondering what the future holds for him and endeavours to find a way to reunite his birth family.
Kit de Waal masterfully captures the world through the eyes of Leon. His naive understanding of the harsh and cruel world he has been born into is perfectly pitched, and de Waal's writing is poignant but not overly sentimental. By zooming in on tiny details at the centre of Leon's world, she also makes the novel completely authentic – and at times very funny.
Set against a backdrop of racial tensions on the streets of 1980s Britain, in the book we encounter the Royal Wedding, Curly Wurly chocolate bars and BMX bikes which all add to the novel's nostalgic charm. It also raises the question: just how far have we moved on in the last 30 years?
This novel will at times break your heart and at others, lift you up. It will introduce you to a wonderful cast of characters – funny, dysfunctional, always compassionate and kind; not least the little boy protagonist by the name of Leon.
About the author
Kit de Waal was born in Birmingham to an Irish mother, who was a foster carer, and a Caribbean father. She worked for 15 years in criminal and family law, was a magistrate for several years and sits on adoption panels. She used to advise Social Services on the care of foster children, and has written training manuals on adoption and foster care. Her writing has received numerous awards including the Bridport Flash Fiction Prize 2014 and 2015 and the SI Leeds Literary Reader's Choice Prize 2014. My Name is Leon is her first novel. She has two children.
Kit de Waal will be joining us to discuss My Name is Leon during a webchat at 9pm on Wednesday 6 September
The giveaway is now closed. We ask all winners to take part in the author webchat on the Book of the Month discussion thread – but you don't have to win a free copy to join us.