As a general rule I tend to shy away from inherently ‘sad’ books (I’m talking to you David Nicholls- One Day– this is your fault). For years I’ve dodged the likes of the Notebook, p.s. I love you or My sister’s keeper… not because I don’t think they will be good; I just know I will find them too sad. I do, however, like a poignant book.
One of the best examples is Patrick Ness’ award winning A monster calls– an incredibly beautiful illustrated YA book about a little boy struggling to come to terms with the fact that his terminally ill mother will inevitably die. The idea originally came from Siobhan Dowd, who, sadly, never got to publish the book as she too succumbed to terminal cancer. I cried like a baby…
The premise of My name is Leon is equally sad. Set in the early ’80s, 9 year old Leon has been born into an unstable family unit; abandoned by his father to a mother with profound mental health issues. When his little (white) brother Jake is born, things come to a head and the brothers are taken into care, and, crucially, only Jake is adopted. As a colleague of mine wouldn’t stop raving about it, I thought I’d better give it a read.
Written through the innocent eyes of Leon is a brutally honest, heartbreaking tale of loss, friendship and love, peppered with issues such as racism. Despite the fact that I had a lump in my throat for most of the book, I absolutely loved it. The story itself was very convincing- hardly surprising considering Kit de Waal has experience of both foster care and social services- but it was Leon that made it for me. My heart broke for him. As with Wintergirls, what made this book so wonderful was the glimmers of hope from the most unlikely places. I like to think he turned out ok.