The Leavers (National Book Award Finalist): A Novel

by Lisa Ko

Hardcover, 2017




Algonquin Books (2017), Edition: First Edition, 352 pages


"One morning, Deming Guo's mother, an undocumented Chinese immigrant named Polly, goes to her job at the nail salon and never comes home. With his mother gone, eleven-year-old Deming is left with no one to care for him. He is eventually adopted by two white college professors who move him from the Bronx to a small town upstate. Set in New York and China, the Leavers is the story of how one boy comes into his own when everything he's loved has been taken away--and how a mother learns to live with the mistakes of her past"--


½ (314 ratings; 3.8)

User reviews

LibraryThing member msf59
Deming Guo is an eleven year old boy, living in the Bronx with his mother and her boyfriend. His mother is an undocumented Chinese immigrant, struggling to make ends meet. One day, Deming wakes up to find his mother gone and she never returns, leaving the boy distraught and confused. The boyfriend
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also leaves and Deming is left to the foster care system and is eventually adopted by a white, couple, from upper New York state. They are both college professors.
This begins Deming's journey of trying to find his place in the world and trying to find out what happened to his mother, on that fateful day. This is a story, of immigration, assimilation and a search for happiness.
This is a beautifully written novel and boldly and intricately, structured. This is a debut and I hope this is only the beginning for this talented author.
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LibraryThing member thewanderingjew
The Leavers, The Leavers, Lisa Ko, author, Emily Woo Zeller, narrator
There are many reasons why this book received so many accolades, the foremost, I believe, is because it is about current political issues. It attempts to present the plight of the immigrant, emphasis not on immigrant, or illegal
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immigrant, but rather on undocumented workers. I believe that the author was actually sympathetic to the “undocumented worker ignoring the illegal status. If you are progressive in your beliefs, and you believe in open borders, this book is for you. If not, it may be very disturbing for other reasons. Each of the characters seemed to blame others for their missteps. Each ignored the fact that their troubles, although real and devastating, were caused by their own choices, choices to disobey the laws of the United States. Each seemed to believe that he/she had the right to break the law.
Gou Peilin was a willful and stubborn young teenager from Fuzhou, China. She did as she pleased, defying rules and regulations. Girls were not permitted to do many of the things that boys were, and she bristled and did them anyway. She rarely thought of the consequences of her actions. She went to Beijing to work in a factory and took up with her former boyfriend, Haifeng. She was unworldly and naïve. When she found herself pregnant, she decided she did not want to tell him, although he truly wanted to marry her. Desperate for freedom and a different life, she tried to abort the baby and never informed him that she was pregnant. In China, however, she encountered a bureaucracy she could not navigate, and so she could not end her pregnancy in a timely fashion.
In desperation, she borrowed money from loan sharks and obtained false papers, bought passage to America and began what she hoped would be a new life. Her debts were enormous, in the end, upwards of $50,000 that had to be repaid. Still, she was exhilarated when she arrived in America, and she gave little thought to motherhood or her future. She was painfully naïve and unaware of the fact that at seven months along, she could not abort the child, even in the United States where abortions were more accessible. She was soon to be a working, single mother, and her life was about to become even more difficult.
Her situation grew dire as she struggled to work and raise her son in New York City. However, one day, she met Leon and they fell in love. She moved in with him, to his apartment in the Bronx, and he cared for her and her son, Deming, now a toddler. Leon’s sister Vivian had been abandoned, and she also lived there with her son Michael. Peilin, worked as a nail technician, but as time passed, now known as Polly, Peilin had dreams of a better life. Leon, however, was not legal either, and he was content to stay where he was. He would not abandon his sister, and she also refused to move.
When ICE raided the nail salon where Polly worked, she was rounded up and sent to a place called Ardsleyville, in Texas. It was a detention camp, based on the Willacy (County), detention camp in Texas. She was quickly lost in a system that was overwhelmed with illegals. No one could find her or help her. The telephone there did not work. When she was permitted one call, she did not accurately recall any phone number, so she could not reach out for help. For more than a year, she lived in terrible conditions, even solitary confinement. Although her own actions had caused her plight, she was angry with everyone else, and the horrific conditions she was forced to endure, changed her forever.
Deming, her son, was lost to her when he was adopted by a white couple, both academics, and brought up as an American, losing much of his Chinese heritage. His name was changed from Deming Guo to Daniel Wilkinson. His new parents, Kay and Peter, had their own ideas about what his future should be, but it did not match his own ideas, which, if truth be told, were all over the place. Still, his birth mom encouraged his music, and they discouraged it. His mom allowed him more freedom and they made more rules. Soon, he felt he did not fit in anywhere, not in the white world or the Chinese world, not in the United States or in China. He seemed destined to failure, as he, like his birth mother, made one foolish choice after another. Although his parents wanted a more traditional life for him, with a college degree and a stable future, he chose to drink too much, became addicted to gambling and had dreams of being a famous guitarist. He was talented, but seemed to always set himself up for failure by never adequately preparing for the task before him.
The fact that he was adopted into a different racial family seemed to weigh heavily upon him, and he didnot feel comfortable in most situations. He was also adopted as a boy of 12, so although grateful for his life and his new family, which was far different from the life of poverty he lived with his mother, both lifestyles offered different advantages to him, which he struggled to understand and appreciate.
As the decades passed, the reader was given a window into the world of the undocumented immigrant/illegal alien’s struggles in the United States. However, as they rail against the injustices that they must endure, they seem to fail to recognize their own complicity in the shaping of the situation.
I did not find myself liking the characters or their behavior. I found them self-serving and irresponsible. They made a choice to enter a country illegally and were upset when they were arrested for doing so. They contrived all sorts of ways to try and become legal, with false papers, through marriage, etc., once in the states, but often were unsuccessful. The illegality of their behavior seemed inconsequential. They came for the opportunity America offered, although in China they did not suffer terribly from deprivation. The problem was that there were few opportunities to leave the peasant class, in China, and that seemed to be the driving force behind Peilan’s often erratic behavior and dreams. She wanted to succeed, to get ahead, to accomplish something more.
I thought the book was too long. The timeline was often confusing, and the subject matter jumped from topic to topic, sometimes without fully exploring and developing the one before beginning another. When the book ended, I was surprised, since there were still many loose ends that were not tied up. Did Deming, now Daniel, ever find or meet his real biological father? Did his biological father, Haifeng, ever discover that Deming was his son? What happened to Yong, Polly’s husband, after she went to Hong Kong? Would she ever get to America to see Deming again? Which life did Daniel wind up identifying with, his Chinese or his American? Was the author for or against interracial adoption, for or against illegal immigration? Did Deming/Daniel or Peilin/Polly ever find out what they truly wanted, who they really wanted to be? Did they find what they were searching for? Did Daniel feel out of place because he was adopted into a white family? Could that white family truly understand what he needed as a young Chinese boy? Children who were adopted as infants seemed to fare better in the story. Was that a fact? Although the characters seem to take great risks, they seemed ignorant of the rules and completely naïve about the chances they were taking.
The struggles Deming felt about his parents and his responsibility toward each was troubling for him. To whom did he owe the most allegiance? Who was his true mother? Was it the mother who wanted him desperately and chose a grown boy to raise, or the mother who had never wanted to be a mother in the first place, who had been unable to find him and who stopped searching for him, eventually pretending he no longer existed?
The immigrant plight seemed to be conflated by the author with the illegal immigrant plight, and the issues were not clearly defined or developed. The characters were surprised when their foolish decisions had unpleasant consequences. It was as if they decided they could make their own rules and the laws of the country were immaterial. Should the laws of a country be defied or ignored? None of the questions I raised were ever answered.
In the end, there was one conclusion that stood out for me. Somewhere, someone in the book said, Americans were not all white. The converse is that in China, the Chinese are all Chinese. The book may actually have pointed out an interesting idea that is often not discussed. It is hard to assimilate; it is hard to overcome the stares and the inherent bias and confusion of people who see things they do not understand. We tend to oversimplify our problems in America with a one-size fits all solution.
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LibraryThing member BALE
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
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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.
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LibraryThing member RidgewayGirl
Deming is twelve when his mother disappears. He'd been secure and happy, although he knew his mother, an undocumented immigrant had her worries and money was always tight. But in his neighborhood everyone was poor and from someplace else and he had a best friend and a mother whom he adored. Her
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disappearance and his subsequent adoption by a pair of white university professors is traumatic, even as he tries to fulfill his new role as Daniel Wilkinson.

There's a lot going on in Lisa Ko's debut novel, which addresses immigration, integration, adoption, cultural dislocation and growing up as a permanent outsider. At it's heart, though, it's a story about a mother and a son and their love for each other. It's a lovely novel, well-told, that fully deserves all the attention and awards its receiving.
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LibraryThing member PhoenixTerran
Although Lisa Ko has written numerous short stories and essays, The Leavers is her debut work as a novelist and the winner of the 2017 PEN/Bellwether Prize for Socially Engaged Fiction. It's a particularly timely novel, too, examining the impact of illegal immigration on the families both directly
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and tangentially involved. The Leavers follows two entwined lives, alternating perspectives between them. First there is Deming, a young man who has yet to find his place in the world. After his undocumented mother Polly suddenly disappears when he is eleven, Deming is fostered and adopted by a white couple who rename him Daniel, never knowing what happened to her. The second is narrative is that of Polly herself, telling the story of her background, how she came to the United States from China, and eventually what really happened to her before and after she was gone from her son's life. The Leavers is in turns compelling and tedious, engaging and exasperating. The issues explored are important ones, but the telling of the character's stories, especially Deming's, can sometimes be frustratingly unfocused. Granted, this may also be a deliberate reflection of Deming's own obscured state of mind.
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LibraryThing member pdebolt
The Leavers puts a face on illegal immigration and the challenges of belonging in a world where you speak a different language and may not resemble your peers in culture or appearance. This is the story of Peilan/Polly, an undocumented Chinese immigrant who came to America with hope for a brighter
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future. She was also single and pregnant. Initially ambivalent about having the child, when her son is born, she loves him fully and without hesitation. Polly's life is filled with hardship and fatigue, forcing her to acknowledge she cannot adequately care for Deming/Daniel, so she sends him back to China to live with her father. When her father dies, Deming returns at age 5 to his mother in New York City and an unknown culture.

Five years later, Polly disappears, leaving Deming at the mercy of Polly's boyfriend and his sister. He ends up in foster care, and is adopted by a white couple who live in the suburbs in a completely different environment than he has ever known, and he is renamed Daniel. These adoptive parents provide support and encouragement throughout the years, but Deming/Daniel continues to wonder about his biological mother and where he belongs. This story evolves into the mystery regarding his mother's disappearance and how her abandonment has permeated his thoughts and actions.

Algonquin fiction rarely disappoints its readers with the quality and substance of its novels. This one is no exception. Lisa Ko is a talented author who writes with confidence about a subject that is heartbreakingly real and very timely. She won won the PEN/Bellwether prize for Socially Engaged Fiction for a novel that reminds us of the struggles many among us endure.
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LibraryThing member EBT1002
This is a complex novel about a young boy, born in the U.S. and sent back to his mother's village in China as a toddler to be raised by his grandfather. When his grandfather dies, 6-year-old Deming is taken back to the U.S. by a relative to live once again with his mother. At first confused and
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frightened, he develops a secure attachment to his mother and her boyfriend, as well as the boyfriend's sister and her son. Then, when Deming is just 11 years old, his mother disappears. A white family adopts Deming, changes his name, and does their best to love and provide for him. Now Daniel, the young man struggles with trust, identity, and his sense of place or purpose in the world. In some ways, he is a surly teenager with whom reading this novel required spending more time than I wanted. However, this is also a poignant and sophisticated treatment of issues of immigration, family attachment, and the devastating impact of adult decisions. It is also a book of hope.
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LibraryThing member booklove2
I'll mention first that I have problems with finishing books I'm reading after I receive bad news (my dad was in the hospital) but I gave this one a chance. I'm a white girl living under a crap administration, so I have been meaning to read even MORE books from people of color and immigrant stories
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than usual. If anything, this book is important as an immigrant story. Otherwise, my mind was trying to figure out what this book was reminding me of (possibly I read too much). Most similar to my mind, and I'm cringing while typing this because I deplored it, was 'The Goldfinch' by Donna Tartt. Thankfully, the main character Deming was a little more tolerable than the other. Deming becomes an adopted orphan in America while both parents are still alive but missing. Deming spends most of his life until he is a young adult puzzling out what might have happened when his mother doesn't come home one day. 'The Goldfinch' and 'The Leavers' both hit on same themes: New York City, gambling, orphans, identity and belonging. Luckily no rambling drug fevers though. But I feel like this shouldn't have been Deming's story, it's his mother's story. His mother went through some things... she was able to make Deming's life easier. And I think when Deming eventually finds out his mother's story, he should have realized it could have been much worse (like the kid from Goldfinch could have had it much much worse). Overall, I'm surprised that this book has so many workshops mentioned in the acknowledgments...sadly, I don't really see the extra work in the writing or the story. The writing is too matter of fact for me with too many unnecessary details (I think I had this problem with The Goldfinch too.) There is nothing here other than the immigrant experience that made this story unique enough and that is definitely something The Goldfinch doesn't have. I'm still trying to think of what it reminds me of. I think The Goldfinch will forever ruin books like this for me (it also happened with 'The Rise and Fall of Great Powers' by Tom Rachman.) Deming still seemed lost in the end, though I did love his love of music. But maybe I've been reading too many weird and wacky books lately to appreciate something this straight forward. Deming should read Tomoyuki Hoshino's book 'Me' if he wants to read about an identity crisis! But if a book about an immigrant is out there and being read, it's a good thing.
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LibraryThing member ghneumann
In Lisa Ko's The Leavers, Deming Guo doesn't need any help to know where he came from. Born in the United States to Polly Guo, who had herself smuggled to America to escape a dead-end life in China, Deming was actually sent back to his mother's home village for a few years to live with his
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grandfather while Polly worked endlessly to try to make some headway on her debts to the loan sharks that got her to New York City in the first place. When we meet Deming, he's in elementary school, living with his mother, her boyfriend, the boyfriend's sister, and her son, Michael, who's about the same age as Deming himself. Then, suddenly, after Polly starts talking about maybe moving to Florida for a job in a restaurant instead of the crushing grind of the nail salon she's been working in for years, she disappears. Already economically strapped, Polly's boyfriend and his sister can't afford to keep Deming with them for long, and he's soon adopted by a pair of white upstate professors, where his new parents dub him "Daniel", ostensibly to help him get along easier in the overwhelmingly white town he finds himself in.

We next catch up with Daniel in his early 20s, back in NYC and doing musician gigs after he dropped out of college because of an online poker problem. He's crashing with his bandmate, Roland, the only other person of color that he went to school with, and trying to figure out how to avoid going back to school like his parents want him to. He's never found out what happened to his mother, but a chance reconnection with his childhood friend Michael, his curiosity is reawakened. As he starts to pursue the issue, the perspective changes and we get Polly's and why she came to have Deming, how and why she came to America, and what actually did happen when she disappeared.

I never DNF (do not finish) books, but if I did, I would have dropped this one after about the first 50 or so pages. While the way his childhood played out would give anyone emotional scars, Daniel himself is not an enjoyable character to spend time with. He's whiny, he steals money from his friends, he's a coward. I hated reading about him. But when the story switched to his mother, the book took off and soared. Polly is a dynamic, interesting character who practically springs off the page, and her story is easy to get emotionally invested in. I wish Ko had either started with more of Polly or just made her the primary focus of the book overall...starting with awful Daniel seems like asking to lose a decent chunk of your audience straight out the gate.

And to miss this book entirely would be a shame. Although it's uneven, there's really solid stuff here. Like I've already raved about, Polly's story is a great one: she's a fantastic character and her struggles to make it are compelling. Ko also had me cringing in recognition at the way she painted Daniel's adoptive parents and their friends, who adopted a baby girl from China...the self-satisfied pats on their own backs for helping their children "connect with their culture" through food and dance classes, the way Deming is renamed like he's a puppy they picked up at the pound instead of a person. By the end, Ko has developed Daniel into a more understandable character and I came around to liking the book, but it really makes you slog through some bad (not even just like challenging, but bad) content to get there.
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LibraryThing member conniemcmartin
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
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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.
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LibraryThing member wagner.sarah35
A timely read about a mother and son separated by the immigration process. Deming Guo was a confused child when his mother didn't return from work one day and he shortly afterwards found himself being adopted by an older couple. As the story unfolds, partly from the perspective of his mother - an
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illegal Chinese immigrant - and partly the story of Deming seeking to find himself and learn his own history. Sometimes frustrating to read, but also incredibly touching. I'd recommend this to anyone seeking to put a human face to immigration.
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LibraryThing member dawnlovesbooks
The Leavers by Lisa Ko is about a mother and her son and what brings them together and tears them apart.
When Deming Guo was 11, his Chinese immigrant mother, left for work at a nail salon and never returned home. In alternating narratives, this heart-wrenching literary novel tells both sides of
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their stories.
This novel is also about immigration, belonging in a foreign place, figuring out who you are and who you want to be and what it means to have a family.
After his mother’s disappearance, Deming Guo is adopted by a white family, Peter and Kay Wilkerson, and given the new identity of Daniel Wilkerson. Daniel struggles with the loss of his mother and the other people he considered his family. He had lost so much and he was lost himself and could never bring himself to fully accept the love his adoptive parents tried to give him. He kept everyone at arm’s length because he was scared they would disappear. He felt like a stranger and was always fearful and on edge, never feeling like he belonged anywhere.
Daniel really struggles with himself. He goes to school for a while and quits, goes back, quits again. He joins a band and quits. He drifts around from place to place torn between his two identities (Daniel and Deming), never knowing who he really is or who he should be.
Later in the book we learn what happened to his mother. Will he be able to forgive her for abandoning him? My book club didn’t care for this book. It has won a lot of literary awards, but I also felt like it just wasn’t as good as it could have been. Still, it provides a heart-breaking look into the world of immigrants and the battles they must face.
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LibraryThing member naturalbri
I absolutely loved this book! Being a person who was adopted and who have moved to another country, a lot of this book really resonated with me. I enjoyed reading along as he tried to find himself, in a blend between his past and present, and as he tried to understand the mystery of his mother.

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has really given us a story packed with detail, history and personality. Amongst all of the story, we find ourselves swimming in a sea of identity, in a world where borders seem to determine too much about who you are and who you become. I found Lisa’s details very apt and this made the story one that I thoroughly enjoyed.

From start to finish, I was really put in awe by the way Ko was able to give the characters life and a true thought-provoking ability to reach me. I felt connected and really a part of this book, and did not want to put it down.

Overall, this is a very good read and one I highly recommend! In a world like today’s, I honestly feel this should be suggested reading for schools, and one many reading lists for adults, and it really describes the life that a lot of people have to find their way through. Excellent book!
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LibraryThing member mzonderm
When he is 11 years old, Deming's mother goes to work one day, and never returns. Deming is soon put into foster care and then adopted. We meet Deming again 10 years later, and struggling with an identity crisis. Does he want to try to be the academic his academic adoptive parents want him to be,
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or does he want to follow his own love of music and try to make it as a musician? Ko is more than a little heavy-handed in making the reader understand that this is something of a stand-in for his mixed feelings about being an American-born Chinese who spent half of his life in a lily-white upstate New York college town.

This character-driven story will appeal both to readers who enjoy books about immigrants, as well as those about characters searching for their own personal identity. Told through the point of view of Deming (in the third person) and his mother (in the first person), the full story of what happened to Deming's mother, both how she came to America and what happened the day she disappeared, is gradually revealed. This is a grim, but ultimately hopeful and redemptive novel that lays out the difficulties of immigration and assimilation without being overly preachy.
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LibraryThing member Micheller7
The description of the Leavers by Lisa Ko included an Asian family, adoption, and immigration and deportation, all topics I enjoy reading about. And indeed, this was a realistic story of a poor Chinese woman Polly (Peilan) who comes to America illegally and pregnant. She has a fierce personality
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but struggles every step of the way - whether to have the baby, ultimately how to raise and support the son she names Deming in New York City, and how to have a better life. She finds a boyfriend and she and Deming live with him, his sister and his sister's son, Michael, who becomes like a brother to Deming. Then one day she disappears. The story meanders back and forth in time, told in the third person for some of it, but in the first person when Polly tells her own story. After she disappears, her son, Deming is eventually adopted by a white family in upstate New York. They change his name to Daniel. He is the only Chinese person in his school. He has many problems due to his abandonment. He does make a friend, who is also a minority and they bond over music. Ultimately, Deming flunks out of college, develops a serious gambling problem and goes back to New York City. Deming and Michael find each other and eventually he begins searching for his mother, as he searches for his own identity.

This is a well written novel, that kept my interest, although some descriptions of Deming's music were unnecessary and overall it could have been edited more tightly. Sometimes I had to concentrate extra hard on where in time the story line was placed at the moment because it is not linear. It is almost exclusively a sober and unsentimental tale and certainly raises important issues for our time, especially illegal immigration and transracial adoption. The characters are drawn authentically, with attributes that are genuine, people with real foibles who make decisions in the best way they can despite the fact that others might do things differently. At other times, they really have no other choices.

I will look for the next Lisa Ko novel.
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LibraryThing member DonnaMBrown
I enjoyed the vivid writing about not just the main characters Polly and Deming but those entrenched in their lives. The story itself about what could happen concerning illegal immigration and the impact it has on families was compelling. I am not a fan of films or books that jump back and forth
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between the past and present and I struggled with this in this book. Overall, I enjoyed this book
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LibraryThing member JanaRose1
Deming's mother leaves for work one day and never comes home. When Chinese Deming is adopted by two white college professors, they change his name to Daniel and try and turn him into the son they have always wanted. The book then shifts to his mother Polly's point of view, outlining her childhood
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and how she came to America.

I didn't think the back and forth between Daniel and Polly really worked. It may have been different if the author introduced Polly's pov earlier, or alternated in smaller chunks. Instead, it was jarring when Polly was introduced, and she seemed somewhat alien. Overall, not a bad book, just not one I would re-read.
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LibraryThing member flying_monkeys
The Leavers uses a need we all share -- the need to belong - to illuminate important issues like immigration and transracial adoption.

The problems Deming experienced with his white adoptive parents really opened my eyes to the child's perspective within a transracial adoption. Frankly, I couldn't
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understand how such intelligent, educated people could be completely ignorant of healthy ways to raise a child of color. Yet I know this fictitious story was based on actual experiences. Not to mention the fact that they kept inflicting their choices and expectations on Deming, which is a parenting style I will never support. As soon as Deming mentioned how much he loved playing guitar and wanted a guitar of his own for his birthday, and his adoptive parents bought him a laptop instead, I was like, "Oh, they're that kind of people."

The Leavers made me take a look back at the children of immigrants and adopted children of color I've known and wonder about their personal experiences. They seemed happy, but now I question whether that was true or just my assumption based on outward behaviors and appearances?

4 stars
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LibraryThing member lisapeet
Nice to read a multigenerational coming of age story that's so lacking in clichés—and a story that's about a parent's growth as much as her child's. Strong story, interesting and nuanced characters, and a great sense of place—both China and New York City are characters as much as the people
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are. Highly recommended.
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LibraryThing member Sheila1957
The story of Deming and his mother. The story is told from both points of view, past and present, alone then together.

I did not care for any of the characters. Deming as a child is great but as an adult, as Daniel, he is a jerk. His adoptive parents are also jerks. I felt bad for Polly, his mother,
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but she did not have her act together either. Had I not read this for book club I would probably never picked it up. The story was interesting enough but I never developed any empathy for the characters.
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LibraryThing member BLBera
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
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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.
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LibraryThing member Kristelh
The Leavers is a coming of age novel that addresses issues of undocumented workers, motherhood, and adoption. The mother/son are the main characters in the novel. This book addresses the current issue of undocumented workers and exposes the system as heartless and using unacceptable cruel treatment
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of undocumented workers who come into the US.
Because the mother is pregnant when she comes to the US and is unable to abort because she is too far along, the son is a US citizen. When the mother is taken in an ICE raid and unable to contact anyone, no one know where she is and she is eventually sent back to China and the boy is adopted as an older child to a Caucasian family in an area where there are no Chinese. Another issue addressed; adoption, cross cultural adoption. For educated people these parents don't seem to be very wise in their parenting but that happens.
Eventually the son and mother find each other and both are still trying to find themselves. Both are complex characters.
The book is a debut novel and felt a bit bumpy and my edition had quite a few errors that should have been caught by the editor. Issues addressed; undocumented workers, children of undocumented workers, human rights, motherhood, parenting, adoption, making children be something they are not, addictions, and PTSD. Perhaps there were too many issues.
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LibraryThing member Castlelass
Contemporary fiction about a Chinese-American youth abandoned by his mother at age ten, who is adopted by a white couple. Feeling like he doesn’t belong, he longs to find his birth mother. The author provides insight into the heart-wrenching struggles faced by illegal immigrants with
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American-born children.

I had mixed feelings about this book. I thought it did an excellent job of showing how fear of abandonment can leave a lasting impact on a child’s life as he matures into a young adult and I was appalled at the treatment meted out to illegal immigrants at the detention center. . On the other hand, I didn’t feel the book was fully engaging. It jumps around in time and it is not always evident where we are in the timeline. I also thought the adoptive parents could have been more fleshed out – they appeared to be cardboard cut-outs. Since this is a debut, I am sure Ko will evolve in her ability to facilitate a connection with the characters, so I will pick up something from her in the future. Recommended to those interested in stories centered around immigration, adoption, or Chinese culture. Contains language.
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LibraryThing member brangwinn
This story is so relevant for today. If you have no future in your native land, and come to the US illegally, you end up living a shadow life. You can’t expect to have much of a future. When Polly leaves China for what she hopes will be a better life in New York City for her and her unborn son,
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she finds it’s a heck of a hard climb to survive. When she is caught by INS she is sent back to China, and her son eventually ends up being adopted. What happens to the two of them creates a drama that many people are facing.
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LibraryThing member mabroms
How do you go through life when you don't know who you are? It's a question Lisa Ko examines in her new novel "The Leavers" that tells the gut-wrenching tale of a boy shifting between two worlds, two families, two languages, and wondering where he fits in.

Deming/Daniel is born in New York to a
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young Chinese immigrant who has no moorings of her own and struggles to support herself and her child in a factory filled with other women like her, sleeping on the floor of an overcrowded apartment.

Overwhelmed, she sends her one-year- old back to China to live with her father in a rural village where he learns to speak, savor the flavors of traditional China, and play with whatever is at hand. At the age of 5, he returns to America - learning another language, culture, and family routine - until his mother disappears. His subsequent placement in the foster system and his adoption by an educated, white family leave him questioning his identity and making some very poor choices along the way.

Told in two voices - Deming/Daniel's and his mother Peilan/Polly's - "The Leavers" opens a window onto the plight of illegal immigrants and the toll it takes on children and parents. Lisa Ko's writing is assured, insightful, and true, bringing the reader on a journey that is at turns perilous, poignant, and infuriating, but ends on a satisfying note.

"The Leavers" won the PEN/Bellwether prize for Socially Engaged Fiction, deservedly so. Thank you to Algonquin Books and LibraryThing for the beautiful pre-publication copy.
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Original language


Original publication date


Physical description

352 p.; 9.29 inches


1616206888 / 9781616206888
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