My Name Is Layla is a layered and powerful story set in present day, small town America. The point of view narrator is Layla, thirteen years old and starting eighth grade. Her dad named her Layla–the only thing he gave her. People tell her Layla is a poetic and lyrical name, but her mom and brother insist on calling her Munk, short for her childhood nickname Chipmunk.
Layla’s brother Nick is a couple years older, preoccupied with his own life yet there when she needs him. He often accuses Layla of not appreciating their mother’s hard work to keep a roof over their heads. Their parents are divorced. Mom is an R.N. who works a twelve-hour night shift and often works her days off for overtime since her ex-husband does not pay child support. They always need money. Mom harbors resentment about their father’s lack of support–emotionally and financially. Dad moves from one town and one job to another.
Layla fantasizes about him rescuing them and having a ‘normal’ life like her friends who have both parents at home. When she discovers her dad working downtown, she delivers an invitation for Thanksgiving dinner–without telling her mother or brother. He arrives a hopeful guest, but since her parents are estranged Mom refuses to allow him in their home. He leaves soon after, a defeated reject. Mom is concerned about Layla but firm in her decision.
Liza is her Layla’s friend. She is loyal, kind, and an honor student. Liza helps her study, but Layla is a poor student. She feels like a lost cause. Even Sammy, her friend across the street, is a far better student than Layla. Layla always felt she could do better in school like her friends, but every time she tries to read, the words dance and spin around. The feeling of not fitting in and feeling different form everyone else, so common for thirteen-year-olds, is threaded throughout the book.
Then the new eighth grade English teacher, Mr. McCarthy, recognizes an untouched intellect in Layla. After a series of poor personal choices and consequences, Layla finds a light at the end of her tunnel of despair.
This is a refreshing look at life today for tweens or young teenagers that offers hope, even after poor choices. My Name Is Layla demonstrates that help can come from unexpected sources. It is a perfect book for anyone who wants to understand the pressures of eighth grade, and possibly even how to help some tweens or teens.