My Name is Leon | A moving debut novel by Kit de Waal

My Name is Leon is an insightful account of a child’s experience of fostering. It is the first novel by author Kit de Waal who worked for fifteen years in criminal and family law.

Set in Britain in the 1980s, the story is told from the perspective of a nine-year old black boy, called Leon who is placed into foster care when his mother becomes unable to care for him.

The novel opens at the birth of Leon’s half brother, Jake. From the outset, it is clear that something is amiss with the boys’ mother, Carol. Immediately after the birth, Leon is left minding the baby while Carol goes out for a cigarette.

Back home, Leon assumes responsibility for Jake but he struggles to cope as Carol’s condition deteriorates. Inevitably, a crisis occurs and Leon and Jake are placed into foster care.

At first, they move in with Maureen — an experienced foster mother — described by Leon as having red fuzzy hair and a belly like Father Christmas. It’s a temporary arrangement. Soon social workers are visiting and it’s clear from the adult conversations that the boys will be separated.

The reasons for the separation are that Leon and Jake are half-brothers.  Leon is black, baby Jake is white. Adoption is seen as the best option for Jake whereas Leon must stay in foster care.

When Jake is taken away, Leon has to learn how to bear the loss of his little brother. He devises a vague plan to rescue Jake and his mother, stealing coins so as to be able to support them when the time comes.

Leon is lucky that the adults he encounters in foster care are kind and look out for him but the loss of his family is always with him.

My Name is Leon by Kit de Waal is published by Penguin. An advance copy was provided by the publisher for the purpose of this review.