Updated: Jan 6, 2019
The Leavers- Lisa Ko
Words cannot describe how amazing this book is. A good friend of mine had told me it was one of her favorite books she'd read this year, it was actually on my 'To Read' list and she kindly lent me her copy so I could get stuck in. Oh boy, she didn't disappoint with the recommendation that's for sure ! I can't believe I waited this long to read it.
The Leavers, by the amazingly talented Lisa Ko is a beautifully written novel. It follows two main characters, Deming and Polly Guo. Deming's mother Polly, who is an undocumented Chinese immigrant goes about her day at her job in a nail salon, and never comes home, she disappears without a trace. With Polly now missing, eleven year old Deming is left with no one to care for him and eventually ends up being adopted by white college professors, Peter and Kay Wilkinson. They move him from his familiar surroundings in the Bronx, to a predominantly white upstate suburb, and re-name him Daniel Wilkinson, so he can sort of fit in into his new American life and be their version of an 'All American boy'. Daniel, being so far away from his old life struggles to reconcile his new life as he is left with many memories of his lost mother and the community he was taken away from. It tells the story of a boy coming of age with his difficult life changes, and a story of how his mother learns to live with the mistakes from her past.
This book was just so good you guys. It's written very well, it is easy to read with beautiful language and is thought provoking too. It is mostly told from the perspectives of Deming/Daniel and Polly, so you get to hear both sides of the story from beginning to end. It's a fully written novel and I appreciated that the writer didn't skip any details on their lives as you truly got to know each character and their traits very well. It shows the unrealistic expectations placed upon struggling families. As well as it being about these two central characters, it delves into the immigration borders and the American deportation system in a way that is true. It is very relate-able to what we are seeing on the news, and from many reports of deportation and families being separated from their parents. These are real and true stories that are happening right now as well as in the past. I thought it was very bold of her to not just write about this tender story between mother and son, but to also highlight culture differences, what these families must go through, and what is happening to the borders in the immigration system for families seeking a better life. Not just for America, but for other privileged countries around the world that have these systems in place. In this novel, Lisa Ko describes the devastation caused by forced and brutal secret detention centers that happen in the Immigration Act. You get to know what life is like for an illegal immigrant, the psychological grit and how brave and strong you have to be to be able to survive such a life that may bring opportunities and a better life than the one left behind. It is raw and real.
I personally loved this book. I could easily read it again in a year or two. You totally get transported in Deming's and Polly's life and even though Polly isn't the most perfect person, you get to know why and understand her reasons. I also loved all the music references in this book! It was a pretty cool and very relate-able book! Deming is a normal kid and had some kick ass tastes in music and mentions the likes of The Ramones, The Clash, Hendrix, The pixies, New Order and so on. I loved that aspect of it a lot and how he used music to get through the hard times and life, so true for many people. I also liked the grittiness and real vibe of how New York City was depicted in it, and the vivid sounds and aromas of the city. Beautiful, raw and real.
Everyone should read this. Great for book clubs, debates and discussions. It's defo one of THE books of 2017/18.
Lisa Ko was also raised by Immigrant parents but was born in New York City where she now lives. She was raised in the suburbs and took regular grocery trips to Manhattan so she knew first hand the feelings that Deming would go through. Lisa Ko took a trip to Fuzhou, China to get inspiration for her now best seller novel, The Leavers, which made the book feel as real as it could. Wonderful writer indeed.