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 give Jake to strangers. Since Jake is white and Leon is not.
As Leon struggles to cope with his anger, certain things can still make him smile - like Curly Wurlys, riding his bike fast downhill, burying his hands deep in the soil, hanging out with Tufty (who reminds him of his dad), and stealing enough coins so that one day he can rescue Jake and his mum.
Evoking a Britain of the early eighties, My Name Is Leon is a heart-breaking story of love, identity and learning to overcome unbearable loss. Of the fierce bond between siblings. And how - just when we least expect it - we manage to find our way home.
My Name is Leon by Kit de Waal is published by Viking (Penguin) in Hardback, Audio book and E Book on 2 June 2016 and is the author's first novel.
Kit de Waal has packed so much into this beautiful novel. It's just over 250 pages long and has such an emotional impact. I fell in love with Leon on the very first page, just as Leon himself was falling in love with his new-born baby brother Jake.
It is the never wavering, total immersive love that Leon feels for Jake that screams out from this story the most. Life is not easy for Leon, his dad left some time ago, his mum either goes out and leave him alone, or takes to her bed for long periods. Loving baby Jake is not only Leon's instinct, he feels that it's his duty too. Just as he does his best to look after his mum.
But Leon is only ten years old, despite the fact that he's stocky for his age, and people often mistake him for an older boy. He's just ten, and caring for a tiny baby and a mum who is struggling becomes too much for him. Caring but concerned neighbour Tina finally has to inform someone, and Leon and Jake go to live with Maureen.
When Jake is taken away to live with new parents, because it's easier to find a new family for a white baby than to find anyone who wants to give Leon a new home, and it's because Leon is not white.
Set in 1980, Kit de Waal has captured the era perfectly. With a backdrop of a Royal Wedding, racial tension and disrupted streets, along with Curly Wurlys and a BMX, My Name is Leon is so very very authentic.
The author writes with authority and compassion, with a heavy dose of wit and humour that avoids the book turning into the bleak and depressing. Her characters are vivid and honest and beautifully created, there are many to fall in love with; Maureen, Tufty, Slyvia, each one of them are genuine and perfectly created.
Leon's story is heart-breaking at times. He's seen and heard far too much in his short life, yet retains an innocence that defines him. He feels unwanted inside, yet he comes across a community of people who accept him for who he is, with no question, and the developing relationships are tenderly nurtured by the author.
Leon is a character to cherish. My Name is Leon is a book to savour and to remember, and Kit de Waal is most certainly a very talented author, one to watch in the future.
My thanks to the publisher who sent my copy for review.
Kit de Waal was born in Birmingham to an Irish mother and Caribbean father and worked for fifteen years in criminal and family law. She has been awarded the Bridport Flash Fiction Prize in both 2014 and 2015, the SI Leeds Literary Reader's Choice Prize 2014, and second place in both the Costa Short Story Award 2014 and the Bath Short Story Award 2014. Her short stories, 'The Beautiful Thing' and 'Adrift at the Athena' have also been produced for BBC Radio 4.
#MyNameIsLeon is her first novel.
Follow her on Twitter @KitdeWaal
Find out lots more about the author and her work at www.kitdewaal.com