Summary and book reviews of My Name Is Leon by Kit De Waal

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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About this Book

Book Summary

For fans of The Language of Flowers, a sparkling, big-hearted, page-turning debut set in the 1970s about a young black boy's quest to reunite with his beloved white half-brother after they are separated in foster care.

Leon loves chocolate bars, Saturday morning cartoons, and his beautiful, golden-haired baby brother. When Jake is born, Leon pokes his head in the crib and says, "I'm your brother. Big brother. My. Name. Is. Leon. I am eight and three quarters. I am a boy." Jake will play with no one but Leon, and Leon is determined to save him from any pain and earn that sparkling baby laugh every chance he can.

But Leon isn't in control of this world where adults say one thing and mean another, and try as he might he can't protect his little family from everything. When their mother falls victim to her inner demons, strangers suddenly take Jake away; after all, a white baby is easy to adopt, while a half-black nine-year-old faces a less certain fate. Vowing to get Jake back by any means necessary, Leon's own journey - on his brand-new BMX bike - will carry him through the lives of a doting but ailing foster mother, Maureen; Maureen's cranky and hilarious sister, Sylvia; a social worker Leon knows only as "The Zebra"; and a colorful community of local gardeners and West Indian political activists.

Told through the perspective of nine-year-old Leon, too innocent to entirely understand what has happened to him and baby Jake, but determined to do what he can to make things right, he stubbornly, endearingly struggles his way through a system much larger than he can tackle on his own. My Name Is Leon is a vivid, gorgeous, and uplifting story about the power of love, the unbreakable bond between brothers, and the truth about what, in the end, ultimately makes a family.

1


April 2, 1980

No one has to tell Leon that this is a special moment. Everything else in the hospital seems to have gone quiet and disappeared. The nurse makes him wash his hands and sit up straight.

"Careful, now," she says. "He's very precious."

But Leon already knows. The nurse places the brand-new baby in his arms with its face toward Leon so that they can look at each other.

"You have a brother now," she says. "And you'll be able to look after him. What are you? Ten?"

"He's nearly nine," says Leon's mom, looking over. "Eight years and nine months. Nearly."

Leon's mom is talking to Tina about when the baby was coming out, about the hours and the minutes and the pain.

"Well," says the nurse, adjusting the baby's blanket, "you're nice and big for your age. A right little man."

She pats Leon on his head and brushes the side of his cheek with her finger. "He's a beauty, isn't he? Both of you are."

She smiles at Leon and he knows that she's ...

Please be aware that this discussion guide may 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 ...
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Reviews

BookBrowse Review

BookBrowse

So did I identify with Leon, despite being an elderly white American woman? Well, I unconsciously started referring to the book’s title as “I Am Leon.” Thanks to de Waal’s magnificent character development, my name might be Donna but now I am Leon too.   (Reviewed by Donna Chavez).

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Media Reviews

Booklist

This moving exploration of race and the foster-care system offers precious insight into the mind of a child forced to grow up well before his time.

Kirkus Reviews

Taut, emotionally intense, and wholly believable, this beautiful and uplifting debut gives readers a hero to champion.

The Guardian (UK)

Kit de Waal has already garnered praise and attention for her short fiction. She worked in family and criminal law for many years, and wrote training manuals on fostering and adoption; she also grew up with a mother who fostered children. This helps explain the level of insight and authenticity evident in My Name Is Leon, her moving and thought-provoking debut novel... De Waal skilfully brings her adult characters to life through the perspective of her child protagonist and she bestows great compassion on all her protagonists.

Author Blurb Chris Cleave, bestselling author of Little Bee
Leon is pure goodwill in a wicked world, and he won't leave you when you put this unique book down. Authentic and beautiful, urgent and honest, this novel does what only the best do: it quietly makes room in your heart.

Author Blurb Rachel Joyce, bestselling author of The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry
There is something about small boys and mothers that really tugs at me. I found it tender and heart-breaking.

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Beyond the Book

The Brixton Riots

Brixton RiotsWith his nappy black hair and dark complexion, the boy at the center of Kit de Waal's debut, My Name is Leon, is caught up in the middle of the racial tensions of 1981 South London. The biracial child has a nine-year-old's agenda, born of anger, and stumbles innocently into a roiling stew of grownup rage and frustration. The bigger snapshot of the day shows a fragile tinderbox of young Afro-Caribbean men who were unemployed, with lots of time on their hands, engaging in marginally legal and illegal activities for pocket change and something to do.

Brixton RiotsThese disenfranchised were the British-born sons and daughters of Caribbean immigrants who had settled in London after World War II. The young men, in particular, were suffering high...

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