The Leavers, Lisa Ko’s debut novel, tells two stories: the first belongs to Deming Guo, the young child of an undocumented Chinese immigrant. One day, his mother simply never comes home from work. He is eventually adopted by a well-intended white family, who; try as they might, cannot patch the hurt and loss festering within this young boy. He resents his mom for abandoning him and resents his foster parents for being unable to breach the gulf between his own culture and theirs.
The second story goes back in time to follow his mother Polly, born in a small Chinese village who, barely out of her teens, becomes pregnant and leaves for America. We learn the tragic details of how she was captured by ICE agents and detained at a holding camp for over a year, then deported back to China. There, she rebuilds her life, unable to contact her son and unable to forget him.
As Deming (renamed Daniel) grows into adulthood, he sinks under the weight of his foster parent’s expectations and his own search for identity. He drops out of college to pursue his only passion, music, to the disappointment of foster parents. He becomes a gambling addict. With no one left to disappoint, he decides to find his birth mother.
This is a somber, timely story about immigrant families and identity, loss and forgiveness. In today’s polarized climate regarding immigrants, The Leavers is an essential read.
Reviewed by: Kalum Meyers, Zauel Library