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  • The book is touching and so poignant

    The leavers by Lisa Ko is ultimately a story of love, loss and finding yourself when you feel that you don’t fit in. At ten-years-old, Deming Guo has already had an eventful life. His mother Peilan (Polly) Guo was an immigrant from China to the USA, arriving whilst pregnant with Deming. Unable to support him he was sent to live with her father back in China until the age of six when his Grandfather died. He then returned to New York to live with his mum, her boyfriend Leon, Leon’s sister Vivian and her son Michael. One afternoon Polly goes out to work and never returns home. Soon afterwards Leon takes off to China, leaving Deming in the care of his sister. When that becomes too much for her, she goes to the authorities where Deming is put into care and eventually adopted by white, rich couple Kay and Peter who are both professors. He is brought up as an American and even his Chinese name is changed from Deming Guo to Daniel Wilkerson. This leaves Deming/Daniel growing up with mixed emotions. He never feels that he fits in anywhere and always feels at a loss. He lost his mum and then he lost his Chinese heritage. Told from alternative viewpoints, from Peilan/Polly and Deming/Daniel, and back and forth in time. We follow Deming/Daniel as he grows up from a young boy into a man surrounded by mystery, and a hole in his heart that occurred the day his mother left. He has always wanted to know what happened to her, but growing up no-one knew. He also lost his Chinese heritage being brought up by white, rich family who wanted him to be just like other young American boys. This is a tale of one young man trying to find himself, not only on the inside but the outside too. Who is Deming/Daniel really? The book is exceptionally thought-provoking and had me interested in the lives of Peilan and Deming. I was intrigued as to where Lisa Ko was going to take her story. The plot is emotional and all the characters had lots of depth to them. I enjoyed spending time and getting to know them all. I was rooting for Deming, this young lad who had been through so much in his life, I’m not surprised he was mixed up. The book is touching and so poignant. It is powerful and original too. All the little details are expertly woven together to make this a wonderful novel. It certainly made me stop and think about life.

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  • Beautiful book telling oft-forgotten stories

    I received a free e-ARC of this book from NetGalley in return for review consideration. It took me quite a while to get into this book, because I sometimes struggle with stories where nothing's going right for anyone and everything seems very bleak and unfair, and The Leavers is, for much of the book, one of those stories. But I'm so glad I stuck with it, as it ended up being an incredibly satisfying read. The stories of Deming (later Daniel) and his mother, Polly (Peilan), are told in tandem. The early chapters of Deming's life are difficult, but he feels loved and safe. But when she fails to come home, he ends up in the care system before being adopted. We don't learn until later in the book what has happened to Polly, but we read about her childhood in rural China, and her life once she moves into the city and tries to find a way to get out to America. The contrast between their childhoods is stark, but there are similarities as well, which are all the more poignant as their adult lives take such different directions. There's an incredible sense of isolation throughout the book. Even when Deming and Polly are spending time with others, they feel separate, held apart from the world. Particularly in Deming's experience as a person of colour growing up in a largely white area, with well-meaning but ultimately quite harmful adoptive parents, I really felt his isolation, his attempts to first distance himself from his upbringing and then embrace it. The book is brilliantly paced, and each section resolves some questions whilst asking new ones and creating new connections. Much of the book is from the perspective of young Deming and young Polly, and Ko writes wonderfully from that child's point of view. I also found that I was slightly surprised by the ending of the book, but in a good way, as Ko shows how resilient people can be, and how unexpected ways forward can be found even in difficult situations. The Leavers was not, for me anyway, an easy read. The characters did things that frustrated me, sometimes out of choice and sometimes out of necessity, and their lives were almost never easy. But it is a beautifully written book which tells the kind of story that is often forgotten. I would highly, highly recommend it.

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