To review a novel, The Truth About Leo, in a medical publication is unusual, especially one aimed at adolescents, but this is written with a purpose. Its aim is to educate children and teenagers about some of the difficulties of alcohol misuse.
Written by David Yelland, former editor of The Sun, the book describes the problems of a 10-year old boy, Leo, whose father is a GP with an alcohol problem. Most poignant is that the author has written and broadcast regarding his own problems with alcohol, starting from the age of 18.
He feels that, while he may be compared with the father in the book, his alcohol problems were not as severe. This was due, in part, to his relationship with his own young son.
Much of the book deals with childhood loss, both the death of Leo's mother and the loss of the father's character that Leo barely remembers. He wants the 'old dad' back, the one who showed him love, not the current 'dadless dad'.
There are issues of denial, lies and covering up the truth by the father and those around him.
The consequences of admitting such a failure are too great, especially for a GP known in his community - we have all come across issues like this.
In the final analysis, does the novel work? Does it highlight the problems and will it educate younger people to be aware of the dangers of alcohol? Having read it and discussed it with my teenagers, I think it goes some way to exemplifying the issues.
The story can be criticised - for example, over how easy it is for a single-handed GP to just shut his practice when he is 'unwell'. In real life, I imagine the PCT would show more concern. But this is a story and one that keeps the reader's interest, including the adult reader's.
While it is most suitable for up to 12-year-olds, it may not convince future alcohol abusers who may deny they have a problem. However it has achieved one very important aim.
This book would allow a child in a similar situation to realise they are not unique or alone and perhaps give them the confidence to seek help.
- Dr Phipps is a GP in Lincolnshire.
- 'The Truth about Leo' is published by Penguin Books, price £6.99.