What’s it all about?:
One morning, Deming Guo’s mother, an undocumented Chinese immigrant named Polly, goes to her job at the nail salon and never comes home. No one can find any trace of her.
With his mother gone, eleven-year-old Deming is left with no one to care for him. He is eventually adopted by two white college professors who move him from the Bronx to a small town upstate. They rename him Daniel Wilkinson in their efforts to make him over into their version of an “all-American boy.” But far away from all he’s ever known, Daniel struggles to reconcile his new life with his mother’s disappearance and the memories of the family and community he left behind.
Set in New York and China, The Leavers is a vivid and moving examination of borders and belonging. It’s the story of how one boy comes into his own when everything he’s loved has been taken away–and how a mother learns to live with the mistakes of her past.
This powerful debut is the winner of the 2016 PEN/Bellwether Prize for fiction, awarded by Barbara Kingsolver for a novel that addresses issues of social justice.
What did I think?:
The debut novel from author Lisa Ko has already got a lot of attention and immediately pricked up my interest. As mentioned above it has already had the honour of becoming the winner for the 2016 PEN/Bellweather Prize for fiction and it was also a finalist in the prestigious National Book Award. Then when Oprah’s Book Club called it “imperative reading,” I knew I had to seek this book out as soon as it was published over here in the UK. You can imagine how delighted I was when this book ended up finding me! The lovely Grace Vincent from Little, Brown publishers invited me to take part in this blog tour celebrating the book’s release and kindly coordinated sending over a review copy in exchange for an honest review.
Being completely honest, this book took me a little while to get into. However, I’m not sure if that was a personal thing (as I was on holiday at the time and had multiple distractions to tear me away). Nevertheless, as soon as I forced myself to read fifty pages without stopping or looking up, by the end of this time, I was irrevocably caught up in the fascinating story of both Peilan Guo, a Chinese-born young woman who is compelled to escape overseas to America as a young woman whilst pregnant with her first child, fearing both the strict Chinese regulations about pregnancy, desperate not to get married to the father of the baby and her constant feelings that things are missing from her life.
This story is also about Peilan’s son, Deming Guo, the relationship between the mother and son and how this changes mainly due to two major events. This includes Peilan having to send Deming back to her father so that she can make enough money to pay off a huge amount borrowed from a loan shark just to get over to America. He comes back to her when he is old enough to go and school and little by little he slowly manages to trust and respect her as his mother. Then something horrendous happens when Deming is a little older. Peilan goes to work one day and never returns. There are rumours that she has left Deming and all her friends, including her partner, Leon and has no plans to return. Deming ends up fostered to a white American couple, Peter and Kay who try to be loving parents towards him but cannot fit the huge hole Deming has in his heart where he, like his mother, also feels like he cannot fit in or succeed in life anywhere he might go.
I’m going to stop there as I don’t want to give too much away but I have to stress how much I enjoyed this novel once I really got into the meat of the narrative. Of course, Deming and Peilan were the real stars of the show but I also enjoyed the background appearances of Leon, his sister Vivian and her son Michael whom Deming lives with when his mother is still there and for a short while before she disappears. I don’t think I’ve read too many books about the immigration experience (although I am aware of some I should definitely get to), but this novel really opened my eyes about the struggles these poor people have, the choices they are forced to make, the conditions they might live under and the little prospects they face for the future if they make a bad decision.
I was furious at Peilan at the start for abandoning her son, especially when you see how much pain Deming goes through as a teenager and then a young adult. He thinks if he does certain things in his present, his mother might return to him. Then, on the other hand, he thinks he has obviously done bad things in his past to push her away to never return. However, things are not always as they seem and it was fantastic to read a novel with not only a dual narrative but that skips around time periods, just to give a sweet little taster of what might be happening until the final difficult details all come out. This was an illuminating with at some points, heart-breaking passages that has made me appreciate the suffering of immigrants a whole lot more. It made me wish we could have a whole re-think of the system, here and abroad – this is especially topical as to what is going on in the news at the moment and I have a new found respect for anyone just trying to make a better life for themselves and their family.
Would I recommend it?:
But of course!
Star rating (out of 5)
I’m the author of THE LEAVERS, a novel that won the PEN/Bellwether Prize for Socially Engaged Fiction and was a finalist for the 2017 National Book Award in Fiction. Set in New York and China, THE LEAVERS follows one young man’s search for his mother, an undocumented Chinese immigrant who disappears when he’s 11 years old, after which he is adopted by a white family. It’s the story of one mother and her son: what brings them together and takes them apart.
I’m a believer in the long game: I started writing stories when I was 5 years old and published my first book at 41.
Find Lisa on her Goodreads page at: https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/15053129.Lisa_Ko
on her website at: http://lisa-ko.com
and on Twitter @iamlisako
Thank you once again to Grace Vincent and Little, Brown publishers for inviting me to take part in this blog tour, I’ve had a wonderful time doing it. The Leavers was published on the 26h April 2018 by Dialogue Books and will be available as both a paperback and an e-book. If you fancy some more information don’t forget to check out my fellow bloggers stops for some more fantastic reviews!
Link to The Leavers on Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/30753987-the-leavers?ac=1&from_search=true