Set partly in the 90’s and partly in modern time, told by both a confused young adult son and the immigrant mother who abandoned him, “The Leavers”, by Lisa Ko, perfectly emulates the pain and confusion encountered both by those who leave and those who are left behind.
Daniel, born Deming, is the forsaken son. The novel follows him through his tumultuous childhood after being adopted by a white couple, to his internal conflict as an adult to find where he belongs. It’s rare to find a book that captures the fear and uncertainty that plagues not only 20-years-olds but also teenagers, yet Lisa Ko does it well. His struggle with his Chinese identity, as well as with the guilt and anger of his mother’s abandonment, allows a dive into the well-kept, unacknowledged truth of older adoptees.
Polly, born Peilan, wrestles with similar issues as her son. An illegal immigrant from Fuzhou, China, Polly grapples with her double identity: who she is before and after the sudden upheaval of her life, that of which leads to her disappearance from her son’s life. She puts a face on illegal immigration, and makes it a tender, terrifying ordeal, one forced by restrictive circumstances.
While Daniel has his story told in third person, Polly tells her own story in first. Their narratives separate and converge in an endless pattern. It’s a compelling look at family, however distorted it may be.
This book is a disappointed customer review left under a product called the American dream, made to open the eyes of people who have them tightly shut. And that’s what Ko has done best in this novel: the chilling feeling of disappointment, and the freeing release of no longer fearing it.
Can be found in SLHS library