The Truth About Leo ISBN: 9780141330037
Published by Puffin, 2010
Leo has the kind of problems no ten-year-old should ever have to face. When he was eight, his mother, to whom he was very close, died of a lingering illness in the latter stages of which he was her chief carer. His father, who had always drunk too much, became an alcoholic and left the family. Now he has come home, ostensibly to look after Leo, but it is usually Leo who looks after dad - a dad who can be violent. In an unforgettable scene towards the beginning of the novel, Leo must deal with his father at his most terrifying. To top it all, Leo has a real bully of a teacher at school, a sneering, sarcastic braggart of a man who has no sensitivity. Leo has one friend, Flora, who has the perceptiveness to realise that Leo's regular lateness at school and his general tiredness has a reason she can recognise; her mother is an alcoholic too. After a near tragedy when Leo's dad sets the house on fire in one of his alcoholic stupers, Leo goes to live with his gran and learns to love her. Dad, after a spell in an institution, comes home, and there is hope that his alcoholism is under control. Leo's emotions about his mum and his memories of her (a major part of the book) ring true, as do the truly awful scenes with his dad. Leo and Flora don't really seem like ten year olds. They are more mature in many ways than seems likely, but this may be because of their peculiar circumstances. The awful teacher gets his come-uppance in a somewhat hard-to-believe episode in which the Prime Minister visits Leo's school at Leo's instigation. But the real power in this story is through the descriptions of the violence inflicted by an alcoholic father and the love of a little boy for his dead mother. Children will relate to both.