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Exploring the Themes of "My Name is Leon" by Kit De Waal: An Emotional Rollercoaster



Welcome to the vibrant, confusing, and sometimes heartbreaking world of Leon, a child caught in the web of social services, foster care, and the throes of 1980s England. If you're reading "My Name is Leon" for your GCSEs, strap in; you're not just ticking a box for your exams, but embarking on a journey that will tug at every last one of your heartstrings.


First off, identity is a biggie. Leon, our nine-year-old protagonist, is not just navigating the world of adults who seem to make life-altering decisions over tea and biscuits, but he's also grappling with his racial identity. Mixed-race with a white mother and a black father he never knew, Leon's journey is tinted by the complexities of his heritage. His brother, Jake, with his blond hair and blue eyes, seems to fit more easily into the picture of what a family 'should' look like to social workers and potential adoptive families. Leon's awareness of these differences grows palpable: he senses the unspoken but all-too-real distinctions being made between him and his brother.


Then there's the theme of family and belonging. Leon's mother, Carol, struggles with her mental health, rendering her unable to care for Leon and his baby brother, Jake, whom Leon adores with every fibre of his young being. The separation from Jake, as the baby is adopted while Leon is not, leaves a gaping hole in Leon's life and identity. The portrayal of this split is not just a plot point but a gut-wrenching exploration of love, loss, and the primal need for connection. The foster care system, with its well-meaning but often ineffectual bureaucracy, serves as a backdrop to the deep human drama playing out in Leon's heart.


Powerlessness is another throbbing ache in Leon's story. Here's a boy who, let's face it, has had more thrown at him than most adults could handle. Decisions are made for him, often with little regard for his emotional upheaval. This theme resonates with anyone who has ever felt out of control of their destiny—so, essentially, every teenager ever.


But it's not all gloom and doom! Kit De Waal masterfully injects resilience and hope into the narrative. Leon's relationship with Mr. Devlin, the gruff man with a garden full of surprises, and Maureen, his no-nonsense foster mom with a heart of gold and wigs for every mood, add layers of warmth and humour. These relationships are Leon's lifeline, teaching him—and us—about the endurance of the human spirit.


Lastly, let's talk about the social and political context. It's the 1980s: think Margaret Thatcher, racial tensions, and economic strife. These aren't just backdrop elements; they are integral to understanding the forces shaping Leon's world. De Waal doesn't hit you over the head with historical facts but weaves them into the fabric of the story, allowing you to feel the weight of the era as Leon would have.


In sum, "My Name is Leon" is not just a book for your GCSEs. It's a powerful narrative that challenges you to look beyond the surface, question norms, and perhaps, understand a little more about the battles fought both within and without. It's a story of a boy finding his place in a world that seems to have no suitable space for him—something many of us can relate to on our worst days. So dive in, laugh, cry, and come out understanding a bit more about life itself. Leon's journey is not just his own; in reading his story, it becomes a bit of ours too.


Questions - MY NAME IS LEON By KIT DE WAAL CHAPTERS - 1-12

Chapter 1 - What do you notice about the style De Waal uses in the opening chapter? How is it different from other books you’ve read? 

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Chapter 2 - What goes over Leon’s head

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Chapter 3 - What would you ask Carol about Leon’s Dad? Why?

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Chapter 4 - Is Leon beginning to understand how complex adult relationships are?

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Chapter 5 - How does Leon respond to the instability of his family dynamic? Why do matters come to a head? 

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Chapter 6 - What does Maureen represent to Leon?

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Chapter 7 - As Leon listened to his Dad and Mum in chapter 7, which emotion do you think struck him? 

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Chapter 8 - How does Christmas with Maureen turn out?

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Chapter 9-10 - How do the lives of Jake and Leon diverge? Is it just?

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Chapter 9-10 - How do the lives of Jake and Leon diverge? Is it right?

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Chapter 11 - Why does Maureen’s ‘words’ matter? 

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Chapter 12 - Is Carol likely to return to take care of Leon again?

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