I too often find that books that win major literary awards are not worth reading as they tend to focus on form over story.
That is not the case with Lisa Ko’s The Leavers.
Deming Guo, later named Daniel Wilkinson, is searching for his mother. Polly Guo was an undocumented Chinese immigrant who left for work one day at a nail salon and never came back. This book is the story of Deming searching for his birth mother. Despite a good upbringing, he is steadfast in his belief that something must have happened to her – that she wouldn’t have simply walked out on him. And it is the story of Polly – her own upbringing, pregnancy, and resolve that her son will have the best she can possibly give him and the later lesson to live with her own mistakes.
The book takes place in both China and New York and author Ko manages to make both of these places a familiar home and a strange land at the same time.
What draws us into this book are the characters – specifically Polly – and Ko’s writing. The story is told so simply and so straight-forward that we believe we truly are listening to Polly telling us of her early life in China, and of Deming’s life as an ‘all-American’. And because we feel a connection to these characters, we sympathize and empathize with them (Polly never asks for sympathy – she’s a strong woman and determined and when things go wrong for her, we [and she] believe that she will turn things around).
This is not a world that I would ever understand – not being a mother, not being an immigrant, not being of Asian descent – and yet Ko pulls me into the story in such a way that I do feel as though I understand it. And once there, how can I not be moved by what I understand?
This voice of Ko’s reminds me of my early readings of Anne Tyler. In a very similar way, I entered the books as an outsider but left feeling as though I knew the characters extremely well.
This was an enjoyable and recommended read.
Looking for a good book? The Leavers by Lisa Ko is a story of strength, loss, and family and well worth reading.
I received a digital copy of this book from the publisher, through Netgalley, in exchange for an honest review.
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author: Lisa Ko
publisher: Algonquin Books
hardcover, 352 pages