Review: The Leavers by Lisa Ko

One morning, Deming Guo’s mother, an undocumented Chinese immigrant named Polly, goes to her job at the nail salon and never comes home. No one can find any trace of her.

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. They rename him Daniel Wilkinson in their efforts to make him over into their version of an “all-American boy.” But far away from all he’s ever known, Daniel struggles to reconcile his new life with his mother’s disappearance and the memories of the family and community he left behind.

Set in New York and China, The Leavers is a vivid and moving examination of borders and belonging. It’s 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.

This powerful debut is the winner of the 2016 PEN/Bellwether Prize for fiction, awarded by Barbara Kingsolver for a novel that addresses issues of social justice. (Goodreads synopsis)

I picked this up from the library because I wanted to read a couple of books that were on the National Book Award List.  I knew this was an immigrant story but it was so much more.

This is a heartbreaking story about an 11 year old child who is trying to find his place in the world. Deming Guo comes home from school one day and finds that his mother is gone without a trace. He is then given up for adoption and is adopted by a white family.  In addition to moving from New York City to upstate New York, his name is also changed to Daniel Wilkinson.  The book explores adoption, the immigrant experience, and finding your place in the world.

Deming/Daniel was an interesting character.  He was a people pleaser who just kept screwing everything up.  He wasn’t exactly unlikable but he did read a little young, even from the adult point of view.  Daniel wanted so much more for himself but his inability to let go of the past hindered him so much.  His birth-mother Polly/Pelian was well written but, in my opinion, unlikable. Even after we find out what happens to her, it helps a little with the likability, but I didn’t care for her.

Overall, for a debut novel I was captivated by this story.  It was interesting and unexpected and really explored the themes that it set out to explore.  I feel that it maybe could of been a little shorter to stop some of the redundancy that happened toward the end. This book was a 4 star read for me and I will read more of Lisa Ko’s books as she releases them. I do and have recommended this book.

Have you read The Leavers? What did you think? Let’s talk in the comments.

Much Love,





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