This review is written with thanks to Penguin and Netgalley for my copy of My Name Is Leon.
My Name Is Leon begins in 1980, when Leon is eight, and his mother, Carol, has just given birth to his baby brother, Jake. In the weeks after Jake is born, Carol's mental health begins to deteriorate, and Leon and Jake are placed in foster care. As social workers search for an adoptive family for the boys, they are separated. Jake is adopted by a new family, and Leon remains with his foster carer, Maureen. Leon struggles to adapt to life without Jake. Will he be able to find his own happy ending?
Although My Name Is Leon is written in third person, it is told from Leon's perspective. This helps the reader gain insight into Leon's character; his likes, dislikes and opinions. I found it easy to empathise with Leon, despite the fact that the novel is set before I was born, and Leon's childhood is very different to mine. de Waal writes in the present tense, which also helped me to immerse myself in Leon's story.
Leon is mixed race, and he is acutely aware that this, coupled with his age, is presenting difficulties for the social workers who are hoping to find him an adoptive family. The issue of racism, and the implications this has on Leon's identity are therefore central themes the novel. Carol's mental health and its impact on her ability to care for her children are also explored in impressive depth. Whilst mental health, racism and identity are fairly common themes in literature, de Waal approaches them from a different angle; that is, from the perspective of a young child. The added dimension of the care system, which is not a topic that is often discussed in books, helps to engage the reader.
Whilst My Name Is Leon is written in a very engaging way, and addresses some important subjects, I felt that at times, the novel appeared to lack direction. Although there are obviously tensions throughout the plot, in terms of Leon's struggle with his identity, I found that the conclusion of the novel was slightly anti-climactic. However, overall, I felt that the style of writing and the characterisation made My Name Is Leon a very enjoyable read.
My Name Is Leon is available from Amazon.