Reading guide for My Name Is Leon by Kit De Waal

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My Name Is Leon

by Kit De Waal

My Name Is Leon by Kit De Waal X
My Name Is Leon by Kit De Waal
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     Not Yet Rated
  • First Published:
    Jul 2016, 320 pages
    Paperback:
    Jul 2017, 304 pages

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Book Reviewed by:
Donna Chavez
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Reading Guide Questions Print Excerpt

Please be aware that this discussion guide will contain spoilers!

  1. "You're nice and big for your age. A right little man" (1), the nurse tells Leon when he visits the hospital the day Jake is born. Discuss your first impression of Leon and Carol. Is the nurse right in her assessment that Leon is a "right little man"? Do you think his size changes expectations for his behavior, and does he meet these expectations? Is Carol's initial behavior in the hospital indicative of what is to come? How so?
  2. On page 23 Leon notes, "things have started to get jangled up at home." Discuss the ways in which Carol's depression becomes increasingly apparent from Leon's point of view. How does Leon attempt to cope with the changes?
  3. Consider the ways in which notions of right and wrong are examined in the novel. Do the adults appear to have a better grasp than Leon of right and wrong in their dealings with Leon and Jake? Consider Carol, Tina, Maureen, Sylvia, Mr. Devlin, and Tufty in your response.
  4. Do you think Carol is a character foil for Maureen? Compare and contrast Leon's two mothers. Do Maureen's virtues seem more apparent in light of Carol's shortcomings? How so?
  5. Revisit the scene beginning on page 58, when Maureen comforts Leon after a bad dream. "You will be all right, Leon. You will be all right" (61) Maureen assures him, insisting that one day he will be reunited with his baby brother. Does this scene act as a hinge for Maureen and Leon's relationship? Do you think this could be the moment Maureen begins to consider herself as more than a temporary foster mother to Leon? And does Leon begin to trust Maureen after this?
  6. Why do you think Leon enjoys visiting the Rookery Road Allotments? Do the "tidy rows of flowers and vegetables" (98) provide order for a boy whose life is messy and out of his control? Might the fragile plants described as "babies . . . babies [who] need looking after" (120) act as a metaphor for Jake and everything Leon is missing at home?
  7. Do you agree that love is a possible theme of My Name Is Leon? Is love both the undoing of and salvation for these characters? Consider Carol, Leon, Maureen, Mr. Devlin, and Tufty in your response.
  8. Part of what makes My Name Is Leon so memorable is the child narrator. Leon, like all children, both misunderstands situations and simultaneously seems to grasp the complexities of life better than the adults. For example, on page 116 Leon visits Maureen in the hospital and notices that "her mouth is smiling but her eyes are sad." Discuss other moments in the novel when Leon seems wise beyond his years. Why do you think children notice what adults do not?
  9. "I could be him, Mom. . . .You could come back for me and sometimes, I could be him" (146), Leon cries to Carol. For their broken family, shared memories are the only thing that still unites Sandra, Leon, and Jake. What role do you think memory plays in the novel as a whole? Is it memory that sustains Leon through his heartache?
  10. Sylvia, though less motherly than Maureen, at times offers Leon what he most needs: laughter. Point out a few examples in the novel where Sylvia helps Leon find the humor in the absurd. Why do you think laughter is a good medicine for pain?
  11. Why do you think Leon steals? What significance do the money and items he takes have for him? Do you think the stolen items give Leon a sense of control or order? Consider Leon's breakdown in the shed with Tufty and Mr. Devlin in your response, paying particular attention to the moment when Leon says, "Everyone steals things from me" (252).
  12. Race plays an important role in My Name Is Leon. Would you characterize some of the characters in the novel as racist? Why or why not? Discuss the ways in which race directly impacts events in the novel, specifically for Leon, Jake, Carol, Mr. Devlin, and Tufty.
  13. What significance does the title have for the story? Why do you think the author emphasizes Leon's name? Are our names what are central to our identity?
  14. Revisit the moment when Leon last meets Carol, beginning on page 305. In light of the ending, do you understand this scene as a final goodbye between mother and son? Do you think it is pivotal that Carol tells Leon "I still love you" (279)?
  15. How does the final image of Leon rolling a seed between his fingers resonate with you? Leon muses that his seed "will grow up to be a big plant and that plant will have its own seeds to make another plant" (288). What is Leon saying, really? Do you think this image indicates that his life will turn out to be okay?

    Unless otherwise stated, this discussion guide is reprinted with the permission of Simon & Schuster. Any page references refer to a USA edition of the book, usually the trade paperback version, and may vary in other editions.

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