“The Leavers” by Lisa Ko is an important book. It deals with a lot of complex issues regarding immigration, race, as well as complex issues about family of origin, adoption, and other more dicey social issues that don’t have good or easy answers.
“The Leavers” is the story of a Chinese woman, who takes out a loan from a loan shark to leave China and sneak into New York illegally. She is pregnant and gives birth to a boy, Deming Guo. She works long hours in a sweatshop sewing clothes, she can’t take care of her son while she is working so she arranges a relative to bring him to her father’s house in Fuzhou, China to care for him until he is old enough to go to school in America.
After years living in China, Deming returns to his mother in New York and starts school there. Then, one day at the age of 11, Deming’s mother never returns. The effect of this disappearance forever alters his life.
This book is about identity, belonging, nationality and borders. It spans continents as it takes place in New York City, upstate New York, and Fuzhou, China. This book deals with adoption, especially adoption of older children that have already made memories with their family of origin, and strong bonds with a primary caregiver. It is unique in that the child is permanently separated, estranged from his mother, and there is no news about where she went and what happened to her. This book goes into “roles” that children play in both their family of origin as well as in an adoptive home. Another obvious theme is the immigration piece, and being seen as and treated as “the other.” Racism, discrimination that comes with being a person of color in America. He is called Chinese rather than Chinese-American, despite his parents assertion that he is American-born, from New York.
There is a lot here. While the book leaves most of the answers for the reader to decide, there is a lot to chew on and this would make for a lively book club discussion about a wide range of topics. I really loved this book!