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The Leavers (Hardcover)
On Our Shelves Now
As a white mother of Latino boys adopted in infancy from South America, this book is one of the most discomforting and difficult books I have ever read. Then when I looked at the acknowledgements and saw her thanking Transracial Abduction websites, I visited those and did not sleep for many nights. I say this to disclose this review is difficult for me to write. Ms. Ko has crafted a well written, compelling story of Deming, an American boy born to an undocumented Chinese immigrant. After his mother mysteriously disappears one day, he is adopted by a white couple living in the NYC suburbs and renamed Daniel. In light of today's headlines about ICE and immigration, this novel puts stories and faces on those headlines and is incredibly important. The excruciating part for me was the negative way in which transracial adoption was depicted. I am so glad I found this book as it led to a well-told and important tale. I am also glad that it reminded me there are many sides to any story. But honestly, being confronted with opinions and stories that place my life story in a negative light is tough. That said, I am willing to learn from tales that contradict and disrupt my preferred narrative. Needless to say, my teenage son and I have already started to discuss the issues in this book. And to conclude, Ms. Kingsolver's PEN/Bellwether Prize picked an amazing tale, AGAIN. It has left me reeling.
May 2017 Indie Next List
“Deming Guo's first six years of life were spent with his immigrant mother in New York, then China with a grandfather he's never met, and America again. After his mother disappears from her job at a nail salon, Deming is adopted by two professors and dropped into what feels like an alien, all-white suburb upstate. This pattern of early upheaval sets Deming - now Daniel Wilkinson - on a path marked by difference and isolation. As Deming's story unfolds, his mother's side of the story gradually comes to light, filling in holes and ripping others open, until finally, side by side, their disparate journeys form one complete portrait of the resilience of the spirit. This is a heartbreaking, poignant, beautiful book that will stay with you for a long time.”
— Caroline Froh, Boswell Book Company, Milwaukee, WI
FINALIST FOR THE 2017 NATIONAL BOOK AWARD FOR FICTION
"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.
Lisa Ko's fiction has appeared in Best American Short Stories 2016, Apogee Journal, Narrative, Copper Nickel, the Asian Pacific American Journal, and elsewhere. She has been awarded fellowships and residencies from the New York Foundation for the Arts, the MacDowell Colony, the Lower Manhattan Cultural Council, Writers OMI at Ledig House, the Jerome Foundation, and Blue Mountain Center, among others. She was born in New York City, where she now lives. Visit her at lisa-ko.com.