Hot off the press: My Name is Leon by Kit De Waal

Pick up your own free copy of My Name is Leon today!

This special edition is published as part of the KU Big Read and includes comments about last year’s Big Read and discussion prompts to help you join in the conversation.

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New students starting at Kingston University London this year will receive a copy over the summer, including FHSCE students studying at the joint faculty of Kingston and St George’s, to welcome them to University life. Current students and staff can grab the book for themselves from the library helpdesk at St George’s.

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You can read our staff and student reviews of all of the shortlisted Big Read titles, including Senior Lecturer Joanne Powell’s review of My Name is Leon, by clicking on The Big Read tag.

Author visit to St George’s

Kit De Waal’s first novel has become an award winning best seller and was shortlisted for the 2016 Costa First Novel Award. Lenny Henry, after narrating an audiobook version, has optioned the book for TV, so we’re sure there will be big and exciting things still to come for this wonderful book.

Speaking of exciting news soon to come – Kit De Waal will be visiting St George’s in October. It will be a great opportunity to hear her speak about her book and maybe even get your own copy signed!

Further details will be annouced on the KU Big Read website, or watch this space…

Lunchtime book club

There will be a one-off lunchtime book club in August for staff to discuss the themes in My Name is Leon. Please contact St George’s Library if you’re interested in joining.


Join the discussion. Tell us what you thought of My Name is Leon, or what your favourite Big Read shortlisted book is. Come by the library to borrow a copy.

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Book review: My Name is Leon by Kit De Waal

My name is leon

A review of My Name is Leon, written by Joanne Powell, Senior Lecturer in General Practice Nursing

I so enjoyed reading and reviewing this beautifully and sensitively written book for The Big Read. The story starts with the birth of Jake and the reader soon realises that his mother, Carol, can’t cope.  Leon is nine years old and his baby brother, Jake, has just been born. The book describes a particularly difficult period during Leon’s childhood.

The book opens with his mother leaving Jake to go and have a cigarette leaving Leon and Jake together on their own.  Carol is also on her own as a single parent – both brothers have different and absent fathers and while Carol and Jake are white, Leon is mixed race. His father, Byron, is in prison, while Jake’s father, Tony, is in another relationship and has rejected Carol and Jake.

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Illustration and blurb extract

Carol has problems coping on her own and spirals into a desperate decline relying on Leon and often leaving him and Jake alone or with her neighbour, Tina. Tina raises the alarm when Leon, desperately hungry, asks Tina for money for food.   Jake and Leon go to live with Maureen, an emergency foster carer with “fuzzy red hair like a halo and a belly like Father Christmas”. Jake is soon adopted – he’s white and a baby and therefore in demand. But no one will adopt Leon who has a black father and is already too old.

This book is set during the 1980s in Birmingham during a troubled time characterized by racial tension – Irish republicanism and police brutality against black people that spark the riots of 1981. After a birthday present of a bike, Leon develops a sense of freedom and discovers the Rookery Road allotments. Here we are introduced to pivotal characters Tufty and Mr Devlin. They both introduce Leon to the concept of nurture through the planting and cultivating vegetables from seeds. However, the allotment is a political hotbed and racial tensions spark between Tufty, a West Indian political activist who Leon admires and Mr. Devlin, an aging member of the IRA. Leon, who listens too much at doorways and keyholes, is focused on being reunited with Jake and plots to find him.

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80s Boombox illustration from the book

This book is a page turner as you seek to find out how it works out for Leon. It provides an important and sometimes uncomfortable commentary on attitudes to parenting, race and adoption during the 1980’s. For me, being a child of the 1980’s, I found the descriptions of the racial tension and riots uncomfortable to read and it provoked distant memories. The novel is full of quietly shocking moments which also reveals how much child protection has moved on from 30 years ago.


If this brilliant review hasn’t already convinced you to read My Name is Leon, here’s another reason – it’s  now the winner of KU Big Read. Congratulations Kit De Waal!


Join the discussion. Tell us what you thought of My Name is Leon, or what your favourite Big Read shortlisted book is. Come by the library to borrow a copy.

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