When Deming Guo is young, his undocumented Chinese immigrant mother leaves for work and never returns. Deming is adopted by a white family and renamed Daniel, and grows up to be a troubled young man. As he tries to find his place in the world, we learn more about his personal journey and his mother’s journey. Leavers is a powerful story about family and an eye-opening look at the American immigrant experience. I was so moved by this book. It is beautifully written, heartbreaking, and ultimately hopeful. Recommended By Jennifer H., Powells.com
This amazing novel gave so much insight into the life of an immigrant, and how when we leave a place, a part of us stays in that geography, and it in us. Both Polly, who sacrifices everything to come to New York from China, and her son Daniel, who we see trying to integrate his Chinese and American selves into one narrative and identity, jump off the pages, as do their overriding struggles to belong. I read all of the book in one day except the final chapter, which I saved in order to stay with the characters just a little bit longer. Recommended By Aubrey W., Powells.com
Synopses & Reviews
"There was a time I would have called Lisa Ko’s novel beautifully written, ambitious, and moving, and all of that is true, but it’s more than that now: if you want to understand a forgotten and essential part of the world we live in, The Leavers is required reading." — Ann Patchett, author of Commonwealth
Lisa Ko’s powerful debut, The Leavers, is the winner of the 2016 PEN/Bellwether Prize for Fiction, awarded by Barbara Kingsolver for a novel that addresses issues of social justice.
One morning, Deming Guo’s mother, Polly, an undocumented Chinese immigrant, goes to her job at a nail salon—and never comes home. No one can find any trace of her.
With his mother gone, eleven-year-old Deming is left mystified and bereft. Eventually adopted by a pair of well-meaning white professors, Deming is moved from the Bronx to a small town upstate and renamed Daniel Wilkinson. But far from all he’s ever known, Daniel struggles to reconcile his adoptive parents’ desire that he assimilate with his memories of his mother and the community he left behind.
Told from the perspective of both Daniel — as he grows into a directionless young man — and Polly, Ko’s novel gives us one of fiction’s most singular mothers. Loving and selfish, determined and frightened, Polly is forced to make one heartwrenching choice after another.
Set in New York and China, The Leavers is a vivid examination of borders and belonging. It’s a moving story of how a boy comes into his own when everything he loves is taken away, and how a mother learns to live with the mistakes of the past.
"An inspiring debut, which focuses on issues of assimilation and the true meaning of home. Ko’s unforgettable narrative voice is a credit to the moving stories of immigration, loss, recovery, and acceptance that feel particularly suited to our times." Nylon Magazine
"Ko’s debut novel has already won the 2016 Pen/Bellwether Award for Socially Engaged Fiction, a prize created and selected by Barbara Kingsolver. The contest awards a novel "that addresses issues of social justice and the impact of culture and politics on human relationships," and Ko’s book certainly fits that laudable description." TheMillions.com
"Ko's debut is a sweeping examination of family through the eyes of a single mother, a Chinese immigrant, and her U.S.-born son, whose separation haunts and defines their lives. Ko's stunning tale of love and loyalty — to family, to country — is a fresh and moving look at the immigrant experience in America, and is as timely as ever." Publishers Weekly (Starred Review)
"One of 2017's most anticipated fiction debuts….The winner of last year's PEN/Bellwether Prize, which recognizes fiction that explores issues of social justice, The Leavers feels as relevant as ever as the future of immigrants in America hangs in the balance." Time.com
"In The Leavers, Lisa Ko has created one of the most courageous mother character's in recent memory. Polly is brash, brave and heartbreaking and her ferocity is marvelous to behold. The Leavers is about the bonds between parents and children and the many pulls of home. It was a book I did not want to end." Kaitlyn Greenidge, author of We Love You, Charlie Freeman
"Courageous, sensitive, and perfectly of this moment: The Leavers is everything I could hope for in a winner of the Bellwether Prize." Barbara Kingsolver
About the Author
Lisa Ko's fiction has appeared in Best American Short Stories 2016, Apogee Journal, Narrative, Copper Nickel, the Asian Pacific American Journal, and elsewhere. She has been awarded fellowships and residencies from the New York Foundation for the Arts, the MacDowell Colony, the Lower Manhattan Cultural Council, Writers OMI at Ledig House, the Jerome Foundation, and Blue Mountain Center, among others. She was born in New York City, where she now lives.