The Leavers

The LeaversThe Leavers by Lisa Ko
Published by Algonquin Books on May 2nd 2017
Pages: 352
ISBN: 1616206888
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four-stars

One morning Deming (Daniel) Guo’s Mother, Peilan (Polly) goes to work at the nail salon where she is employed and does not return. For awhile Deming (Daniel) continues to live in the home they shared with Polly’s boyfriend, his sister and her son. Just where did Polly go? Before she went missing she was talking about moving to Florida to earn more money and have a higher standard of living. She wanted the American dream of having a better life for her and her son. Having a better life was hard as she was an undocumented Chinese immigrant.

Initially no one really knows where Polly went. Did she leave? Did she abandon her son? Is she in Florida? Is she alive? Why did she leave without telling anyone? What will happen to her son? Who will look after him? All Deming/Daniel knows is that his Mother is gone. He thinks that if he becomes a better student, she will return. She doesn’t return and one day, Vivian (Polly’s boyfriend’s Sister) takes him for a walk. A walk that ends with him being placed in Foster care. This is a hard and confusing adjustment for Daniel (previously Deming). He is a child, he does not know where his Mother is or why she never came home. His foster parents also have an adjustment to cope with. They have been married and child free for twenty years. Are they making the right decisions? Are they suited to be parents?

Daniel grows up with pressure to do well academically and struggles tremendously with this goal. He also wants to pursue music and has a problem with gambling. He is a lost young man, unsure of himself in the world and with questions that have never been answered.

But then there is his Mother’s story. Polly was an unwed Mother at the age of nineteen. She worked hard to make a life for her and her son. She had to send her son to live with her father until she could afford to raise him. She wanted to be a good Mother but fate was not on her side. She wants to go to Florida in order to have a better life. She works hard at the nail salon and has no idea that one day her life will be changed forever.

From the title it is obvious this book is about leaving. What does it mean to leave a place you call home behind? To leave those you love behind? To leave your hopes and dreams behind? What does moving on entail? There are a lot of themes in this book: immigration, family (what makes a family), hope, new beginnings, deep sadness, identity, loss, etc.

This is one of those book, that stays with you after you read it. I found that I liked the book more after I sat and thought about it. There were parts I enjoyed more than others. I enjoyed learning Polly’s tale more than Daniel, mainly in part because it answered some questions for me. This is a debut book which is quite impressive as it is very polished. The above mentioned themes along with the story-telling are what shine in this book. Where Polly went is not a real mystery or surprise here. I think most readers will have figured out what happened, but the magic of this book is about how it affected a young boy/man’s life. How one’s path in life can be changed. How does one cope when their life changes instantly? How does one cope when their name is changed? When their idea of family is changed? What happens when you are removed from one culture and placed in another? That is where the magic in this book occurs.

I received a copy of this book from Algonquin Books and NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

four-stars