My Name is Leon
Kit de Waal
Summary (from Goodreads): 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.
Review: Written from the perspective of an eight year old boy, this novel brought to life the harsh realities faced by a biracial boy abandoned by his mother and sent to foster care in the 1980s. Leon's voice is pure and authentic and brought me to tears several times throughout the novel. The story starts with Leon taking care of his baby brother Jake while his mother battles mental health issues and drug addiction. Leon is broken-hearted when the boys are sent to foster care, but he quickly adjusts to a relatively happy life with Maureen, his doting foster mother, until Jake gets adopted and Leon is left alone. Leon doesn't understand everything that happens to him, but the author captures his confusion and his love for his brother and his desire to bring his family together again in an authentic and remarkable way. It was impossible not to fall in love with Leon.
Rating: 4.5 stars