The Leavers: A Novel

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Lisa Ko’s stunning debut novel, The Leavers, criticizes the brokenness of the United States immigration system through the story of a young undocumented mother. When Peilan Guo discovers she is pregnant and that an abortion is too costly, she flees Fuzhou to avoid being forced into marriage and finds a home in a crowded New York City apartment. A decade later, Peilan, now Polly, goes to work at a nail salon but never returns; her son Deming is sent to live with a white couple in a remote town upstate. Deming, now called Daniel Wilkinson, spends his teenage years surrounded by white faces and jarring English. The hurt of his mother’s absence and her unknown whereabouts pervade his thoughts until an unexpected message from a childhood friend leads Deming to the truth about his mother’s disappearance.

The joy of The Leavers lies in the slow unraveling of Peilan’s story, which is told from alternating points of view. Audacious, inspiring, and wonderfully flawed, Peilan is an exceptionally memorable character. Ko expertly shows Deming’s struggle with living between cultures as well as his complicated feelings toward his adopted parents and biological mother. Deming’s obsession with music, which becomes his personal language in the novel, brings about immersive passages, a definite highlight. Written with gripping, unflinching prose, The Leavers is a very timely immigrant story suffused with true-to-life humor and heart.

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Author Lisa Ko
Star Count 5/5
Format Hard
Page Count 352 pages
Publisher Algonquin Books
Publish Date 2017-May-02
ISBN 9781616206888
Amazon Buy this Book
Issue August 2017
Category Modern Literature


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