Leo and his little sister, Lila, are at home with their mum one morning having breakfast when their drunken, abusive father visits. Leo and Lila hide in a kitchen cupboard while their mum faces him alone, but sadly within minutes she is dead and he sets the kitchen on fire.
Kate and Reg have fostered a number of children over the years, permanently adopting Charlie, Fliss, and Andy. When they are asked to provide a home for Leo and Lila, mainly because Lila is deaf and Kate and her family frequently use sign language at home, this is put to a family vote and everyone agrees. However, no one could have predicted the issues that Leo has, not only physically but mentally, and the transition is difficult for him; his only anchors are his love for Lila and his tentative relationship with new foster brother, Charlie.
Charlie has never been in any trouble until Leo moves into their home, but Charlie sees the emptiness in the other boy’s eyes and hears his screams at night. Charlie immediately wants to help, but finds himself skipping school and lying to Kate and Reg, as well as fighting his growing attraction to Leo, though he is blind to the fact that Leo feels the same.
After a mis-timed first kiss, the boys give in to their feelings, unaware that their actions and the new trouble Leo finds himself in could jeopardize their family.
I have loved everything I have read by Garrett Leigh, particularly the emotional quality that she brings to her stories and in this, Finding Home is no different. For me, Leigh is an author who understands her characters and the situations they find themselves in and though she addresses a number of difficult issues within Finding Home, she has clearly undertaken a great deal of research and the depth of knowledge she exhibits makes her a trustworthy storyteller and our reactions are genuine and profound.
Finding Home has two main characters who are 15 years old, meaning that it falls into the young adult genre, but the emotions that Leigh addresses in the story are universal. There is the familial love Kate and Reg encourage in their home; the romantic feelings between Charlie and Leo; as well as the loss Leo and Lila have experienced that many of Leigh’s readers may not be able to relate to to this extreme degree, but this is a pain we can all understand.
Leigh explores Leo’s character and the aftermath of his father’s actions in great detail, so much so that at times Leo is not an individual I particularly liked. The way he treats Kate and Reg with such disrespect seems unfair and unnecessary. Yet, the main reason we connect with Leo is because we have evidence of both his physical and mental deterioration. His PTSD diagnosis is no surprise when we have witnessed his reactions to Bunsen burners being lit in the classroom, but his extreme reactions following this are shocking and remind us what can happen in the real world when someone with mental illness is left untreated.
Although Leo makes mistakes, Leigh does not allow her reader to view him in a negative light for long. It is Leo’s relationship with Charlie that grounds him and because of this he connects with Andy, Fliss, and eventually Kate and Reg. As an adult, I did second-guess the appropriateness of the relationship between Leo and Charlie, but this does not mean that I did not want it to happen. I felt that both boys deserved this happiness and to me the feelings they share manifested as more than the fleeting first-love that can be felt when one is a teenager.
Leo opened the car door and crawled inside. Charlie smiled, and Reg faded away. Fliss too, though Leo was sure he felt her hands on him. He lay down and dropped his head in Charlie’s lap, absorbing the warmth radiating from him like a lion in the sun. Charlie had always felt good-magic,even-but now, when there was nothing left of Leo but darkness, Charlie was the sun.
Finding Home is also a story that deals with parenting — both in the best and worst ways. While Leo’s Mum makes the ultimate sacrifice for her children, Kate and Reg open their home and hearts to accept children who are not biologically their own and when the story of Leo’s father’s actions that day in the kitchen are fully revealed, we are horrified. I certainly hugged my own children a little tighter after finishing this novel.
Finding Home may be a young adult novel, but I think that for any reader to reject it purely on this basis would be a mistake. Leigh’s story is powerful, poignant, and yet also we are given that glimpse of hope and healing. Five stars for this fabulous new release!