‘Leon is nine, and has a perfect baby brother called Jake. They have gone to live with Maureen, who has fuzzy red hair like a halo, and a belly like Father Christmas. But the adults are speaking in low voices, and wearing Pretend faces. They are threatening to take Jake away and give him to strangers. Because Jake is white and Leon is not.’
Let me start by telling you one thing that sticks out to me about this book and one thing alone: it is incredibly sad and heartbreaking.
I am lucky in that I grew up with a Mum and Dad who loved me and my brother very much. Whilst other children in my class at school may have had a step-parent and half siblings or none of one parent at all in my little mind I only thought that my peers who came from these family situations were only in them because Mummy or Daddy had passed away. I remember not quite understanding how things such as divorce worked and I grew up thinking that all Mummies and Daddies were married before they had babies.
I talk about my childhood here because My Name is Leon is focused around a young boy who we are introduced to as being raised by a single mother who has just given birth to his younger brother via fling with another man, another man who isn’t Leon’s father and whom she isn’t married to.
There are also themes of racism and social segregation in the book because of the eighties time-frame setting just as Leon and his baby brother Jake are taken in by social services when their Mum can’t cope and poor Leon is passed from pillar to post whilst his younger, white, brother is adopted into a stable family environment.
The fact of the matter is that Leon isn’t wanted by anyone, but I don’t think its because he’s black – or maybe I missed it?
Personally I feel that no one wants Leon because he is older and Jake is still a baby when he is adopted and it’s generally known that older children are more difficult to place into adoption families (is it though? Trying to research this with a dodgy wifi signal on a train from Manchester to Cardiff was not a good idea).
Something in this book touched me because Leon goes through so much pain and anguish as he grows up, especially as it becomes clear that his Mum has real problems with raising her children and cannot cope with the two of them alone and even afterwards. His Mum doesn’t really connect with Leon and he takes on the role of parent to Jake so he assumes that responsibility for him and mourns him when he adopted and Leon is left behind. It’s difficult to comprehend a child character who dons so much responsibility could be so easy to read about and accept into a plot but this book achieves this.
I know I’ve harked on about Leon and his story alone but there is more to this book than meets the eye, there is a reason that the cover is of a boy riding his bicycle and if you stick to end you’ll see why. Sadly for me all that really stayed with me is Leon’s pain so I scored this book lowly for it because I felt that it overshadowed the lessons the author wanted me as a reader to learn when writing.
Generally a decent read and a good story but the setting is heart-shattering, but I suppose if you a fancy a good weep within the first few chapters why not give this a go.
Disclaimer: I received a copy of this title from the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. All thoughts are my own.