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The Leavers: A Novel by Lisa Ko

The Leavers: A Novel

by Lisa Ko

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This review was written for LibraryThing Early Reviewers.
The Leavers is the story of Demming Guo and his birth mother Polly. Polly leaves for work one morning and doesn't return. After months of no word, Demming is taken to foster care, and eventually he is adopted by Peter and Kay Wilkinson, who move him to upstate New York.

Polly and Demming are two wonderfully realized characters. The story is told from their points of view. We get their perspectives of the immigrant experience. Demming,or Daniel, as he is named by his adoptive parents, always feels like an outsider. In his story, we see the cost of immigration laws that tear families apart: "Daniel envied people who could take their origins for granted..." From Polly's story, we learn about the challenges of being undocumented. We always see how immigrant women, especially, are forced to make impossible choices.

The novel covers about ten years. The first half dragged a little. There was perhaps too much about how lost Demming is. Still the characters are wonderful, and this novel is certainly timely. ( )
  BLBera | May 25, 2017 |
This review was written for LibraryThing Early Reviewers.
The Leavers is a well-written book with a lot of good things going for it, but for me as a whole, it was just OK. The subject manner is timely and I am sure relatable to many, I just couldn't connect with the characters on a very deep level. For me, the story was most alive when narrated by Peilan/Polly. I lost interest with Daniel's grown-up life and the music scene and I wanted more out of the story of the adoptive parents (or at least more from their characters). Overall the story flowed pretty well. I procrastinated picking it up at times but found that as soon as I started reading again it flowed well and was easy to stay focused.

What Ko does well, is in showing the complexities of these relationships and that - more than plot - is what kept me going with this one. Some of Deming/Daniel's feelings I didn't always quite understand - and that was a good thing.It gave me the sense of how confused/torn he must have felt caught between his two lives (before and after). It showed the ambiguity of things. I'm a white woman born in America so maybe I am not always going to 'get' it completely, but this book helped me understand just a little more, which is what I was hoping for when I requested the book. I feel the author did her job in that regard. Would read another book by Lisa Ko in the future. ( )
  conniemcmartin | May 19, 2017 |
Compelling writing, an examination of serious contemporary issues, and a not-overly-tidy resolution
  Unreachableshelf | May 12, 2017 |
This review was written for LibraryThing Early Reviewers.
The Leavers is a timely novel that deals with immigration, deportation and the need for familial and cultural identification. It portrays the difficulties faced when children are born as American citizens, but their parents are not. The story unfolds using alternating perspectives between the protagonist, a Chinese American, and his mother, an undocumented Chinese immigrant, as they try to resolve the conflict experienced when she is deported and he is adopted by a Caucasian family at the age of eleven.

The overall story is important, especially considering today’s political climate. Yet its telling is a bit underwhelming. It reads like a dry journalistic piece lacking passion and creativity. In addition, Ko focuses on the protagonist’s featureless attempt at a musical career in excess. She uses this narrative to reveal the process of a struggling youth trying to self-actualize, yet it falls flat and feels like an overplayed muse.

Ko’s writing is practiced and competent; she is not an unskilled author. However, her novel lacks depth. I never felt invested; I plowed through the book, hoping for something more that it never delivered. Leavers is not a bad novel, poorly written without plot or character development, it simply lacks impact. ( )
  BALE | May 11, 2017 |
This review was written for LibraryThing Early Reviewers.
I finished [The Leavers]. People, it's a run, don't walk. Really engaging and timely without being preachy. It's about a Chinese boy Deming and his mother Polly living in NY - the Bronx actually. When he is about 12, she disappears completely and he is fostered and then adopted by a white family upstate. Fast forward 8 years and Deming - now Daniel - dropping out of college with a gambling addiction, trying to start a band. Both his story, and his mother's, are fascinating and the whole novel was inspired by an article in the NYT about a woman illegally detained and jailed in an immigration camp in Texas.

It's very compelling, upsetting, and even funny in parts. Also, a total love letter to NYC.

Thank you to the Library Thing Early Readers program for allowing me to read this marvelous book. ( )
  laurenbufferd | May 3, 2017 |
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Like the sea, I am recommended by my orphaning. 
Noisy with telegrams not received,
quarrelsome with aliases,
intricate with misguided journeys,
by my expulsions have I come to love you.
--Li-Young Lee, "The City in Which I Love You"
Sin Yao Tai
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The day before Deming Guo saw his mother for the last time, she surprised him at school.
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