FINALIST FOR THE 2017 NATIONAL BOOK AWARD FOR FICTION
Named a Best Book of 2017 by NPR, Entertainment Weekly, the Los Angeles Times, BuzzFeed, Bustle, and Electric Literature
“There was a time I would have called Lisa Ko’s novel beautifully written, ambitious, and moving, and all of that is true, but it’s more than that now: if you want to understand a forgotten and essential part of the world we live in, The Leavers is required reading.” —Ann Patchett, author of Commonwealth
Lisa Ko’s powerful debut, The Leavers, is the winner of the 2016 PEN/Bellwether Prize for Fiction, awarded by Barbara Kingsolver for a novel that addresses issues of social justice.
One morning, Deming Guo’s mother, Polly, an undocumented Chinese immigrant, goes to her job at a nail salon—and never comes home. No one can find any trace of her.
With his mother gone, eleven-year-old Deming is left mystified and bereft. Eventually adopted by a pair of well-meaning white professors, Deming is moved from the Bronx to a small town upstate and renamed Daniel Wilkinson. But far from all he’s ever known, Daniel struggles to reconcile his adoptive parents’ desire that he assimilate with his memories of his mother and the community he left behind.
Told from the perspective of both Daniel—as he grows into a directionless young man—and Polly, Ko’s novel gives us one of fiction’s most singular mothers. Loving and selfish, determined and frightened, Polly is forced to make one heartwrenching choice after another.
Set in New York and China, The Leavers is a vivid examination of borders and belonging. It’s a moving story of how a boy comes into his own when everything he loves is taken away, and how a mother learns to live with the mistakes of the past.
APPLE BOOKS REVIEW
A few chapters into this dazzling novel we were making up excuses to stay home for the night. Lisa Ko’s story about a New York City–born boy abandoned by his Chinese birth mother is absolutely riveting. Ko shifts between perspectives and time periods to create dramatic tension around the events leading to Deming Guo’s traumatic transition to life upstate as adopted son Daniel Wilkinson. Her characters are heartbreakingly real and conflicted, her prose a thrill to read.
Ko's debut is a sweeping examination of family through the eyes of a single mother, a Chinese immigrant, and her U.S.-born son, whose separation haunts and defines their lives. Eleven-year-old Deming's mother, Polly, suddenly disappears from the nail salon where she works, leaving him at the Bronx apartment they share with her boyfriend, Leon, Leon's sister, and her 10-year-old son. Weeks later, Deming is handed over to a "new family" white suburban college teachers Kay and Peter, who name him Daniel. But it hardly guarantees a storybook ending; Daniel fails in college and struggles to make it as a musician. And then he learns that his missing mother is alive. The narration is then taken over by Polly, who describes her journey to America as an unwed pregnant teenager, and the cramped living arrangements and low-paying jobs that finally take her and Deming to the Bronx. "It was a funny thing, forgiveness," Deming finds. "You could spend years being angry with someone and then realize you no longer feel the same." Ko's stunning tale of love and loyalty to family, to country is a fresh and moving look at the immigrant experience in America, and is as timely as ever.
Customer ReviewsSee All
This is a rich book. It's the kind of book that takes you to different places allows you to see and feel and smell the places and the characters, to cry and feel disappointment, relief and happiness. I highly recommend it.
The type of book that stays with you long after it ends. Immigrants, children of immigrants , and anyone struggling to navigate two incomplete lives in two separate worlds will relate. Such a powerful story.
Attention to detail
This book was alternately too focused on detailed descriptions- I skipped several - and didn’t connect other important details. These two combined to distract my enjoyment of the book enough I wouldn’t recommend it.