The Leavers by Lisa Ko


I rounded this book up half a star while reflecting on it because I realized I really enjoyed this book. It’s a book that feels so familiar, like talking to an old friend. You really feel like you know the characters well as you are going through this book.

This is a story about Polly and her son Deming (later renamed Daniel). Polly is an immigrant from China and Deming was born in New York City. One day, Polly doesn’t return from her job at the nail salon and leaves eleven year old Deming alone. Deming knows his mother wouldn’t leave him on purpose-or would she? Eventually, Deming becomes adopted by two white Professors who change his name to Daniel and attempt to assimilate him into white and affluent culture.

The book goes between Deming’s/Daniel’s perspective and Polly’s perspective over the course of several years, including before Deming was born and as he grows into young man.

“I could raise my child to be smart and funny and strong. I want you to know you were wanted. I decided: I wanted you.”

Much of the book goes through many difficult decisions Polly makes over the years and Deming’s struggle with trying to fit into white/affluent culture and the expectations of his adoptive parents while feeling that something is missing.

“Daniel envied people who could take their origins for granted, who could decide to hate their parents.”

Overall, I highly recommend this book. This is a satisfying read addressing themes such as immigration, white privilege, adoption, identity development and the bonds between a mother and her son.

“All this time, he’d been waiting for his real life to begin: once he was accepted by Roland’ s friends and the band made it big. Once he found his mother. Then, things would change. But his life had been happening all along, in the jolt of the orange juice on his tongue or how he dreamt in two languages, how his students’ faces looked when they figured out a meaning of a new word, the wisp of smoke as he blew out his birthday candles. The surge and turn and crunch of a perfect melody.”

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