When crushing mental illness sends a single mother to the hospital, her young sons become entangled in Britain’s bureaucratic foster care system.
Leon is just 8 when his mom, Carol, is taken by ambulance to the local psych ward. He’d been trying to care for Jake, his newborn brother, himself, making the baby's formula, changing his diaper, and attempting to rouse his mother from the drug-addled stupor she’d been in for days or maybe weeks. But when a concerned neighbor stops by and sees the condition of the flat, both boys are sent to Social Services and Carol is involuntarily committed. As narrated by Leon, the story gives readers a child’s-eye perspective on family and addresses the impact of placement on everyone involved. In addition, since Leon is biracial and Jake is white, racial politics come into sharp focus. Once Jake is adopted and the brothers are separated, Leon experiences the resentment, pain, and fury that come from feeling unwanted, and his inevitable acting-out brings him dangerously close to trouble. At the same time, the kindness of strangers—among them his doting white foster mother, Maureen; her sister, Sylvia; and a multiracial group of cantankerous gardeners who grow flowers, fruit, and vegetables in a small community garden—allows Leon to develop a sense of self and take tentative first steps toward independence. Multiple secondary themes, among them learning to trust others, accepting limitations, and confronting what it means to be a person of color in a racist society, are also plumbed. Set in the 1970s, the novel further references actual events including the death of hunger-striking Irish prisoners and the riots that followed the police murder of a Caribbean activist.
Taut, emotionally intense, and wholly believable, this beautiful and uplifting debut gives readers a hero to champion.