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 novel centers on Peilan/Polly, a Chinese immigrant who fails to return from work one day, abandoning her 11-year-old son in the Bronx. Through perspective shifts and flashbacks, the story gradually reveals what happened to her during the years after while following the son, Deming, through his turbulent adolescence and young adulthood. Zeller is a veteran narrator with dozens of titles to her credit, but this is not her best audio work. The first problem is that, with the exception of Polly, most of the female characters sound the same, with a high-pitched, overly bright voice that comes across as manufactured. This characterization is particularly true of Daniel's Anglo-American foster mother and her best friend, but it extends to other women as well, including some of Polly's cadre of roommates when she is trying to make it in Fuzhou and then in New York. Second, Zeller heightens the novel's anxiety so often that the listener becomes inured to the story's subtler emotions. When small mishaps engender the kind of pressured speech and rising pitch that Zeller frequently employs for these characters, it becomes harder to believe their emotions when responding to a genuine crisis. An Algonquin hardcover.
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.