I wanted to read this book last year when it came out and didn’t get around to buying it, then I went on a book buying ban for the whole of 2017 so I bought it for my Mum’s birthday and she lent me the copy to read (she loved it by the way, as I knew she would).
This novel, set in 1980s London, looks at the adoption services and situation. Leon is a mixed race 9 year old his brother Jake is a white baby, when they enter the care system it’s quickly clear that Leon has little chance of being adopted whilst Jake is quickly found a family.
Whilst this story sounds harrowing, and in places it is, it is also an uplifting novel with lots of moments of love and friendship. The first part of the novel focuses on Leon struggling to care for his baby brother and his mother, de Waal does a good job creating a child’s perspective the worry but also some of the self-absorption and naivety of a child. I wanted to reach into the book and shake his mother awake, or help him cope with nappy changes and a crying baby. This section is very bleak with little hope but things look up when he goes to Maureen, his foster carer, a truly lovely character – but not too treacle sweet.
De Waal’s portrayal of working class England in the 1980s was spot on, the language, food, toys etc made me remember elements of my childhood although this was set in the early 80s so some of the tv references and historical moments were things I know of but cannot remember. This book had a very British feel to it, I’d be interested to hear what people outside of the UK made of it.
I read this as my child narrator selection for the #AutumnReadathon and only realised once I’d started that the book is written in third person, so we see things as an adult that Leon doesn’t understand. I’m still kept going after I’d realised my mistake as I was captured by the story.