Book review: A Medal for Leroy by Michael Morpurgo

This book is in bookshops now

I was looking forward to reading award-winning author Michael Morpurgo’s A Medal for Leroy because, although I haven’t read any of his other books I have heard of a number of them, and am a big fan of the theatre play War Horse, based on Morpurgo’s novel of the same name. However, I have to hope that A Medal for Leroy is a departure from his usual form as I did not find it to be inspiring or engaging, and it left me with a distinct feeling of ‘so what?’

I realise that I am not the target demographic for this children’s book, but this, I felt, was one of the problems with the book – it was very unclear at which age group it was aimed. The narrator, Michael, is telling the story of events in his life when he was first 8, and then 13, but is retelling these events as an old man. The ‘voice’ of Michael feels very much like an older person telling a boy’s story, and I’m not sure it would capture or really ‘speak to’ its young audience. The book opens and closes with present-day Michael, but the promise of the suspenseful opening pages, which leave us initially wondering what is happening and why, is never really fulfilled.

The story suffers from over complexity. Ostensibly about Michael at three different ages, the bulk of the story actually concerns the lives of his father and grandfather who died in the second and first World Wars respectively. A significant chunk of the story is told via a letter from Michael’s ‘Aunt Snowflake’, who turns out to be his grandmother. The ‘twist’ whereby all the dogs are named Jasper just served to add to the confusion. I found myself constantly having to flick backwards and forwards to remember whether we were in Leroy’s story, Roy’s story, or Michael’s. And all this in 200-odd pages of fairly large type!

The themes were also quite adult for a children’s story. Dialogue about intercultural relationships, single parenthood and racism all run through the story, and because of the historical context of the book it did not feel like these issues would be easily comprehensible to a child reader. The pace was quite slow and all the “action” happened at a distance, either being relayed by letter, or through someone telling a story about something that happened years ago. This really distanced me from the core of the story, and it didn’t feel like any of the action was really big or important or relevant to Michael either.

Having said all that, I particularly like the characters of Aunty Pish and Aunty Snowflake, and I could tell that this particular story was one the author was passionate about telling.

Perhaps making it a longer story for older readers, told in context rather at a remove, would have made it a more engaging read. I will persevere and read other of Morpurgo’s work and would recommend those new to his work to start with some of his award-winning works before considering this one.

Reviewed by Renée Boyer-Willisson

A Medal for Leroy
by Michael Morpurgo
Published by HarperCollins
ISBN 9780007363582