My Name is Leon-Kit de Waal
nationality: UK, of color
Carol has not taken the birth of her new child, Leon's perfect baby brother, well. After Leon attempts to run the household at age 10, social services comes into play. And the brothers will not be staying together.
A gut punch to your crying gland is how I'd describe this book. I tend to find child narrators off putting and Leon seems simultaneously a bit young for his age and a bit too precocious but de Waal kept me there-breaking my heart. The foster system in any country is a heartbreaking place but it's certainly worse for kids of color. Leon clearly lacks the privilege of his beloved baby brother in far too many ways-as a white infant, his brother could be adopted out right away (especially in the UK) while Leon is a brown skinned older child well on his way to becoming the "threatening black man" who haunts our media though he has no consciousness of his 'otherness'. Thus, as a novel about the system, unlikely guardians, racial injustice, and grief, de Waal has tackled a lot of very heavy topics in a way that really hurts. Leon's grief, the well-meaning administrators and the very presence of hope if he could recognize it are all the heavy center of the novel and are well-done. The ending is a charming happy ending in which, finally, someone appreciates Leon for who he is-not as he is perceived to be.
However, the more peripheral section/second half of the novel in which Leon meets random men at the allotments is a little more obscure and confusing. What we are supposed to think about these men? The incorporation of the 60s racial unrest seemed a little clunky since Leon's viewpoint is so self-centered. There was something just a bit off about Leon's characterization (the hoarding for the future vs the utter childlike inability to judge the intent of others) as well as the not-so-well developed new characters which threatened the novel's cohesion.