The Leavers by Lisa Ko

The Leavers

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 h...

Title:The Leavers
Author:
Rating:
ISBN:1616206888
Edition Language:English
Format Type:Hardcover
Number of Pages:352 pages

The Leavers Reviews

  • Angela M
    Apr 10, 2017

    Imagine you're a 17 year old girl named Peilan who becomes Polly, and you've come come to the US from China seeking a better life . And oh by the way you're pregnant and here illegally, owing a loan shark $50,000. You have to work long hours in awful working conditions to scrape enough for the payments. You have to bring your infant son to work with you because there is no one to care for him. There are some things that happen in this story that were hard to relate to but then this immigrant exp

    Imagine you're a 17 year old girl named Peilan who becomes Polly, and you've come come to the US from China seeking a better life . And oh by the way you're pregnant and here illegally, owing a loan shark $50,000. You have to work long hours in awful working conditions to scrape enough for the payments. You have to bring your infant son to work with you because there is no one to care for him. There are some things that happen in this story that were hard to relate to but then this immigrant experience is so far removed from what I know. This story was an eye opener for sure.

    Imagine you are a young man named Daniel who was born in Chinatown in Manhattan, sent when he was one year old to live with his grandfather in a village in China and then sent back to his mother at six. That was when he was Deming before his mother disappears when he is eleven. It's been ten years since Peilan has disappeared and Deming is a college student struggling with being abandoned even though adopted. He struggles with his identity, with a gambling addiction, what to do with his life . He remembers when he was with his mother and doesn't understand why she left. At least he has his music. While I'm not a fan of hard rock, it is comforting to know that Deming's music is something he can hold on to . " He would learn how to create music, matching tones to shades to feelings and translating them back to melody. ...He'd craft songs that conveyed exactly what he wanted to say....the rest of the world heard only sound, and that would leave him with lingering sadness...".

    The story is told from their two points points of view, a third person narrative from Deming's perspective and then a first person narrative by his mother. The common thread is their love for each other and their memories of each other. This is a sad story in many ways depicting the separation of a mother and child. It isn't until later in the story that we learn what happened to Peilan. I not going to say much more about the plot. Suffice it to say, this is a moving view of immigrants, a timely one. Lisa Ko does a good job of helping us imagine these lives. A striking debut, recognized by Barbara Kingsolver as the winner of the 2016 PEN/Bellwether Prize for fiction as a novel that addresses social injustice.

    I received an advanced copy of this book from Algonquin Books through Edelweiss.

  • Sam
    Dec 08, 2016

    Lisa Ko's

    is such a raw, honest read, a novel of alienation and identity, adoption and duality and what it means to be family, t

    Lisa Ko's

    is such a raw, honest read, a novel of alienation and identity, adoption and duality and what it means to be family, that is well-written with frequent notes of humor and fun, all the while treating its characters with respect while showcasing their flaws and mistakes, their struggles and redemption. The prose is intelligent, the narrative flowing, and the main characters very compelling, coalescing into an easy, enjoyable yet enlightening and thought-provoking read. I'd give it

    and round up to

    : it's definitely not perfect and sometimes feels like a first novel with some pacing and structural incongruities, but the intelligence and interesting topics, plus the overall quality of the prose won me over and I'll be looking forward to Ko's future novels as well.

    Our main character is Deming Guo / Daniel Wilkinson, though not far behind in importance is is mother, Peilan / Polly. We see flashes of both parts of Deming/Daniel's personality and past. As Deming, a young boy living in the Bronx with his mother, clearly struggling a bit to make ends meet on an undocumented nail technician's salary, but it's his life and he's grown to love it, with his beloved mother, her fun and caring boyfriend Leon, Leon's sister Vivian and her son Michael. And all of it comes undone the day Polly doesn't return from work, and for Deming, there's no trace of where she went or what happened to her. We're taken through his journey as he becomes Daniel, abandoned by the people who professed to love him and adopted at age eleven by a family with no children of their own, a family who believes they are prepared to love him and imprint their version of the American way upon him. And he's able to acquiesce to these well-meant wishes and desires, and submit to being Daniel Wilkinson for a time. But we all have to grow up sometime, and for Daniel, that means painful and poignant realizations and truths about himself and his adoptive family and his past.

    Deming / Daniel wrestles with who he is and who he should be through his childhood, adolescence, right up into the present of the novel as somewhat flailing, unconnected adult, who feels entirely alienated from the world around him, whether upstate at home with his adoptive parents increasingly disappointed in his choices and his divergence from their upbringing and values, or playing in a band and trying to socialize with his one friend from high school. He's creatively and personally stuck in neutral.

    These are common sentiments for those approaching and just entering adulthood, in fiction and real life, but they take extra importance for Daniel, whose past as Deming he had seemingly erased to fit into his new life, and only now does the confusion and anger and despair fully set in, as he suspects he can't be or become who he is or should be, not without processing and understanding his mother's disappearance and his abandonment by her and those he called family, and reconciling all parts of his past and personality. And while I didn't always like Daniel/Deming as a character - he could irritate and frustrate me sometimes with his self-pitying behavior - I understood and empathized with him, and wanted to see where he'd end up and if he could escape his pain and confusion and become a full adult person.

    If it were only from Daniel's perspective, Ko still would have written a great novel, but we also are treated to Polly / Peilan's viewpoint in first person, powerful and emotional and very relevant in today's endless political discussions about undocumented immigrants. Ko waits to provide Polly's perspective as Daniel / Deming starts to retrace her steps and put the pieces together about what happened to her (no spoilers from me), but hearing Deming's past in her voice, understanding her sharp intellect and fierce determination for a better life for her son and herself, getting a clearer glimpse of her own origins in China, and the anguish of how and why she left Deming behind creates a compelling character portrait, one I found I could empathize with as much as I did with Daniel / Deming.

    In short,

    wears many hats at once: a coming of age story, an immigrant story, a story of reconciling diverging parts of one's past and personality, a family epic. It worked for me because of the observant, insightful description and dialogue and flowing narrative of Lisa Ko, even if there were some structural or plot decisions that I felt could have been stronger or tightened up a bit. Four stars for me, strong recommend for lovers of contemporary fiction, family and immigrant stories, and coming of age / coming into one's own tales.

  • Suzanne Leopold
    Nov 21, 2016

    Deming Guo is a fifth grader living with his mother Polly in the Bronx. Polly is an illegal immigrant who supports them by working at a nearby nail salon. Together, they live in an apartment with her boyfriend and his family. One day, Polly does not return home from work and no one can find her.

    Ten years later, Deming is a college student named Daniel. He is struggling with life and has developed a gambling problem. He is uninterested in college, and his friends are tired of his indecisiveness.

    Deming Guo is a fifth grader living with his mother Polly in the Bronx. Polly is an illegal immigrant who supports them by working at a nearby nail salon. Together, they live in an apartment with her boyfriend and his family. One day, Polly does not return home from work and no one can find her.

    Ten years later, Deming is a college student named Daniel. He is struggling with life and has developed a gambling problem. He is uninterested in college, and his friends are tired of his indecisiveness. He is a disappointment to his adoptive parents who have continued to provide support and encouragement throughout the years. He has believed throughout his life that his mother has abandoned him and this has shaped his behavior. This story evolves into the mystery regarding his mother's disappearance and how it has haunted his life.

    The depiction of the emotional connection between mother and child is aided by the the flashbacks of Deming’s and Polly’s life prior to her disappearance. Points of view swap between both characters and enhances the flow of the book. The Leavers also provides readers with glimpses of the hardships faced by immigrants trying to assimilate to a new country.

    This is a debut novel by the author. I believe that we will be hearing a lot more about this book as it gets closer to the 2017 release date.

    Giveaway on my blog until 4/19

  • Carol
    Mar 29, 2017

    With sincere gratitude I thank Algonquin Books, Annie Mazes of Workman Publishing, the author, Lisa Ko, and Edelweiss for providing an e-galley of

    for my enjoyment and review.

    A special shout-out to Northshire Bookstore and Tracy Davies, Events Manager for bringing Kisa Ko to

    in Manchester, Vermont.

    I usually format my reviews with

    ,

    , and

    . This is difficult to do with galleys as the publisher asks that passages not be quoted, as the finished work

    With sincere gratitude I thank Algonquin Books, Annie Mazes of Workman Publishing, the author, Lisa Ko, and Edelweiss for providing an e-galley of

    for my enjoyment and review.

    A special shout-out to Northshire Bookstore and Tracy Davies, Events Manager for bringing Kisa Ko to

    in Manchester, Vermont.

    I usually format my reviews with

    ,

    , and

    . This is difficult to do with galleys as the publisher asks that passages not be quoted, as the finished work may be different.

    Lisa Ko begins her novel in which the first sentence states a fact, yet presents a question that hooks this reader. Deming Guo, a young Chinese boy is living in a New York City apartment with his mother, her boyfriend, the boyfriend’s sister and her son. One day Peilan (Polly) Guo does not come home from work. Having mentioned a plan to seek employment in Florida, Deming is certain this is where she has gone and will soon be home. But why didn’t she tell him she was leaving? As days turn into years, the course of Deming’s life changes in ways we might not suspect. What follows is an emotionally wrought exploration of leaving and just what that means.

    It is hard to believe that this is Lisa Ko’s debut work as it is pitch perfect. It is a social and cultural commentary for our time, and deserving of the 2016 Pen/Bellwether Prize for Socially Engaged Fiction.

    As I read

    it brought to mind the leaves on trees; they come and go without consent, just as Ko’s characters do.

    Leavers is a winner and bound to be a most beloved book of 2017. It hits the stand May 2, 2017. Don’t miss it.

  • Debbie
    Mar 30, 2017

    Damn damn damn spoilers! Even though the blurb and reviews don’t come out and say exactly what happened, a couple of buzz words kept loudly buzzing around in my head. Unfortunately, they landed on the exact right spot. Bingo! I figured out what had happened almost as soon as the story started. It spoiled the mystery, that’s for sure.

    But luckily this story isn’t primarily a mystery. It’s a well-written and interesting coming-of-age story about a Chinese-American kid, Deming (aka Daniel). It’s als

    Damn damn damn spoilers! Even though the blurb and reviews don’t come out and say exactly what happened, a couple of buzz words kept loudly buzzing around in my head. Unfortunately, they landed on the exact right spot. Bingo! I figured out what had happened almost as soon as the story started. It spoiled the mystery, that’s for sure.

    But luckily this story isn’t primarily a mystery. It’s a well-written and interesting coming-of-age story about a Chinese-American kid, Deming (aka Daniel). It’s also a story about his mom, who disappears when Deming is eleven. I love it when a book lets me peek into lives that are so different from mine. Oh god, that sounds so sweet and touristy. Sure, I appreciate, like a detached but curious student of anthropology, a fine peeky-peek into their every-day lives. But way more important is the shiver I feel when I sternly glare at some atrocities, some rugged truths, they faced. I’ll stay vague here, on purpose, so don't ask. I’m dying to talk about this book—so please read it soon!

    The story makes you think about a lot of things—what home means, what belonging to a tribe means, how it feels to try to become part of another tribe, how it feels to be separated from those you love. Deming had such a rough deal. I can imagine how sad and hard it was for him to be constantly wondering where his mother had gone, and why. Did she abandon him because she didn’t love him? Did she get killed? The uncertainty was there, torturing him, for a long time.

    Daniel faces some heavy stuff—the loss of a mother, the oddness and awkwardness of being adopted, and guilt over not getting his act together. And of course confusion over who he was, where he was going, what he wanted to do. Throughout most of the story, he’s sad, lonely, and insecure. He feels alienated. Could anyone blame him, though, since his mom disappeared out of thin air and he was suddenly thrown into a whole different culture?

    One drawback—I didn’t relate to or particularly like Deming or his mother. They both seemed stoical, which made me feel stoical and detached in return. Still, there were well-drawn and complex characters. I don’t have to love the characters to love the book.

    Deming’s life was pretty quiet, but his mother’s life, now that’s a different story. Her life had been riveting and I was completely drawn in. I had pretty strong emotions about her, and they weren’t all positive. I’m not proud to say it but I was constantly judging how good a mother she had been. At the same time, I felt so deeply for all she had to endure, and I felt really sick about the brutal unfairness she faced. As the story progressed, I started to understand her choices and cut her some slack. Her powerful story isn’t told until the last part of the book, though, so I had to spend most of my time hanging out with Deming. Structurally, it makes perfect sense to have the mom’s story at the end. I just wish I had cared more about Deming.

    The language is straightforward. Maybe a bit too much description, but it’s done well so I didn’t get bored. There are super nice metaphors throughout, though there was one time the author went overboard. She uses multiple metaphors to describe a view of the city. I had to construe too many disparate images in my mind. Seriously, she compared things to masking tape, a greeting card, and a band of mismatched toys all in one paragraph. My mind was jumping all over the place! Using just one metaphor would have been a lot stronger. The paragraph seemed sophomoric, like an exercise you’d have in a creative writing class. Maybe the author was over-enjoying her skill of being able to describe things in a super interesting way. Kill your darlings, I want to whisper to the author, it will be okay. Luckily I only experienced (or tuned in on?) the metaphor madness that one time.

    I loved that the story mostly took place in New York City (which might be my favorite story locale ever), and I was fascinated when the story moved to China.

    I recently read and enjoyed the short-story collection,

    . Although the stories have a different feel and focus, that book is similar to this one in that it’s about Asians coming to America. Both books are excellent.

    I purposely tried here to be plenty vague about the plot; I don’t want to spoil it for you. But I will say that this is a really good book that you’ll want to get your hands on. It’s hard to believe this is a debut, but it’s not hard to believe it has already won an award.

    Thanks to NetGalley for the advance copy.

    P.S. Does the title bother anyone else? Who has ever heard of leavers? I know it’s a real word, but it sort of sounds made up. Plus I just don’t even like the sound of it . . .

  • Elyse
    May 29, 2017

    It was only after I touched the hardback in my indi Book store -- silky smooth to touch... gorgeous vibrant orange color...stamped as an "Literary Award Winner"....did I ask myself, "what the hell is wrong with you?" Why was I hesitating reading this book? I knew about it - read a few things about this story - Great Reviews-- but I THOUGHT I HAD READ ENOUGH DEBUT NOVELS ABOUT IMMIGRANTS- legal 'or' illegal!!!

    WHAT ELSE WAS I POSSIBLY GOING TO LEARN? WHAT COULD I *REALLY* TAKE AWAKE FROM THIS BOO

    It was only after I touched the hardback in my indi Book store -- silky smooth to touch... gorgeous vibrant orange color...stamped as an "Literary Award Winner"....did I ask myself, "what the hell is wrong with you?" Why was I hesitating reading this book? I knew about it - read a few things about this story - Great Reviews-- but I THOUGHT I HAD READ ENOUGH DEBUT NOVELS ABOUT IMMIGRANTS- legal 'or' illegal!!!

    WHAT ELSE WAS I POSSIBLY GOING TO LEARN? WHAT COULD I *REALLY* TAKE AWAKE FROM THIS BOOK THAT I HAVEN'T FROM EVERY OTHER WITH SIMILAR THEMES OF HARDSHIPS - DEBT- MEAGER EXISTENCE- STRUGGLES.....unraveling of The American Dream??? Would I end up just feeling sad - and that life is frickin unfair? -- and VERY HARD for some people??? Or maybe -- ( oh God, just maybe one of these books WILL be THE BOOK THAT MAKES THE POWERFUL GLOBAL SHIFTING DIFFERENCE?)......

    Well, I DID SHIFT!!! I AM DIFFERENT than when I started this novel. I hope my local book club picks 'Lisa Ko's, "The Leavers", for one of our monthly picks. This novel calls for some serious- worthy discussions!!!!

    First off -- the storytelling is powerful and consistently compelling. Mother and son are both living between two worlds --- there is hardship and triumph- heartbreak and love.

    There are sooo many things I want to talk about in this novel - I honestly don't know where to begin -

    EVERY CHARACTER is so vivid - real - so fully developed-- we could talk about each 'one' of them -in length from many perspectives. Pelican, for example, is a fascinating woman -restless spirit-independent thinker -liked to curse -could hold a firece grudge. Leon reminded me of a man that tried so hard to please everyone -

    Deming was my hero in ways. No kid was 'left' more. He grows up as Daniel with new parents Peter and Kate.... ( who have their own issues about parenting).

    All the supporting characters.....Michael - Roland - Angel - Vivian - etc. add to this story and are also in your thoughts.

    It's impossible to say all I want to say in this review-- so I'm going to add a 'few' things that have changed me PERSONALLY FOREVER.....

    Rather than tell about the details of this story....( I'm guessing you can find that in other reviews).....I going to share a few GUT WRENCHING images that I've taken away:

    NOBODY comes to America hoping to pick gao gao out of strangers toes and scraping calluses the size of a nose off of the heel of a woman's heel..... ONLY TO GET A SHIT TIP!!!!!

    NOBODY SHOULD HAVE TO WORK A 6 HOUR SHIFT IN A FACTORY WITHOUT A BREAK!!!

    I WILL NEVER *EVER* SEE A NAIL SALON THE SAME WAY AGAIN AFTER READING THIS BOOK!

    WORKING IN A SLAUGHTERHOUSE has got to be one of the worse jobs on the planet -- on so many levels: physically, spiritually, emotionally, and mentally.

    Deming, born in Manhattan, New York, was sent to Minjjang, China, to live with his grandfather for the first six years of his life. Why did Peilan, his undocumented mother stay in America? Why not go back to China with her son where she could have family support raising her son without the separation?

    I HOPE A MOVIE IS MADE FROM THIS BOOK!!!!! I can see it!!!

    Exquisitely written ......deeply human meditation on despair, loss, love, immigration, identity, diversity, hope, human longings, consequences, .......multilayered and deeply felt!!!!

    Thank You Netgalley, Algonquin Books, and Lisa Ko

  • Larry H
    May 14, 2017
  • Susanne Strong
    Jun 07, 2017

    5 Stars.

    "The Leavers" is a coming of age story about a Chinese American boy named Deming Guo (n/k/a Daniel Wilkinson). Deming had to grow up faster, and learn to shut off his feelings and thoughts in a way that no child ever should.

    He and his mother Peilan (Polly) were always very close. They were, like two birds of a feather, two peas in a pod, be

    5 Stars.

    "The Leavers" is a coming of age story about a Chinese American boy named Deming Guo (n/k/a Daniel Wilkinson). Deming had to grow up faster, and learn to shut off his feelings and thoughts in a way that no child ever should.

    He and his mother Peilan (Polly) were always very close. They were, like two birds of a feather, two peas in a pod, best friends. They lived in an apartment with Polly's boyfriend Leon, his sister Vivian and her son, Michael and they became an instant family. The day his mother failed to come home, everything changed. His life was taken away and all of a sudden, he was sent to live with Peter and Kay Wilkinson and he became Daniel Wilkinson. Peter and Kay tried to "Americanize" him. Thereafter, Daniel struggled to find himself and be accepted by his "parents."

    Polly Guo's history was a difficult one. Moving to New York, alone and pregnant, working menial jobs, while speaking very little English? Its hard to imagine.. yet it happens everyday. Her struggles were real. And she faced them alone.

    Every. Single. Character. in this book can identify with that.

    It's a story about letting go when doing so seems like an impossible feat. And last but not least, its a story about our hopes and our fears as well as loss and love and how we handle both.

    The characters are rich, well thought out, descriptive, beautiful. That's not to say that they are all perfect however, some are quite flawed. And well, Human. I listened to the audiobook (the narrator was phenomenal) and I will be buying the hardcover simply because I must have a copy of it for my bookshelf.

    I can't possibly recommend this novel highly enough. It might just be my favorite book of the year so far.

    Published on Goodreads and Amazon on 6.7.17.

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