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The Leavers (National Book Award Finalist)
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The Leavers (National Book Award Finalist)
A Novel
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FINALIST FOR THE 2017 NATIONAL BOOK AWARD FOR FICTION Named a Best Book of 2017 by NPR, Entertainment Weekly, the Los Angeles Times, BuzzFeed, Bustle, and Electric Literature “There was a time I...
FINALIST FOR THE 2017 NATIONAL BOOK AWARD FOR FICTION Named a Best Book of 2017 by NPR, Entertainment Weekly, the Los Angeles Times, BuzzFeed, Bustle, and Electric Literature “There was a time I...
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  • FINALIST FOR THE 2017 NATIONAL BOOK AWARD FOR FICTION
    Named a Best Book of 2017 by NPR, Entertainment Weekly, the Los Angeles Times, BuzzFeed, Bustle, and Electric Literature
    “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. 
     
     
     
 

Awards-

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. Visit her at lisa-ko.com.

Reviews-

  • Publisher's Weekly

    Starred review from February 13, 2017
    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. Eleven-year-old Deming’s mother, Polly, suddenly disappears from the nail salon where she works, leaving him at the Bronx apartment they share with her boyfriend, Leon, Leon’s sister, and her 10-year-old son. Weeks later, Deming is handed over to a “new family”—white suburban college teachers Kay and Peter, who name him Daniel. But it hardly guarantees a storybook ending; Daniel fails in college and struggles to make it as a musician. And then he learns that his missing mother is alive. The narration is then taken over by Polly, who describes her journey to America as an unwed pregnant teenager, and the cramped living arrangements and low-paying jobs that finally take her and Deming to the Bronx. “It was a funny thing, forgiveness,” Deming finds. “You could spend years being angry with someone and then realize you no longer feel the same.” 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.

  • Publisher's Weekly

    July 31, 2017
    Ko’s novel centers on Peilan/Polly, a Chinese immigrant who fails to return from work one day, abandoning her 11-year-old son in the Bronx. Through perspective shifts and flashbacks, the story gradually reveals what happened to her during the years after while following the son, Deming, through his turbulent adolescence and young adulthood. Zeller is a veteran narrator with dozens of titles to her credit, but this is not her best audio work. The first problem is that, with the exception of Polly, most of the female characters sound the same, with a high-pitched, overly bright voice that comes across as manufactured. This characterization is particularly true of Daniel’s Anglo-American foster mother and her best friend, but it extends to other women as well, including some of Polly’s cadre of roommates when she is trying to make it in Fuzhou and then in New York. Second, Zeller heightens the novel’s anxiety so often that the listener becomes inured to the story’s subtler emotions. When small mishaps engender the kind of pressured speech and rising pitch that Zeller frequently employs for these characters, it becomes harder to believe their emotions when responding to a genuine crisis. An Algonquin hardcover.

  • Library Journal

    March 1, 2017

    Winner of the 2016 PEN/Bellwether Prize for Socially Engaged Fiction, Ko's debut novel brings together the voices of Polly Guo, a manicurist from China, and her young son, Deming, a fifth grader. All are living happily in New York with Polly's boyfriend, Leon; his sister Vivian; and her son Michael, who is like a brother to Deming, until Polly suddenly disappears. Deming is turned over to social services and renamed Daniel Wilkinson by his foster parents, Peter and Kay. When Daniel is later reunited with Michael, the truth about Polly's whereabouts is revealed. What follows is a moving story of Daniel's search for his identity as an abandoned child and young adult in a world where he seeks to find balance as either American, Chinese, or Chinese American. Touching upon themes such as identity, determination, addiction, and loyalty, the author clearly shows readers that she is an emerging writer to watch. VERDICT Ko's writing is strong, and her characters, whether major or minor, are skillfully developed. Readers who enjoy thoughtfully told relationship tales by authors such as Lisa See, Jamie Ford, and Nadia Hashimi will appreciate. [See Prepub Alert, 11/14/16.]--Shirley Quan, Orange Cty. P.L., Santa Ana, CA

    Copyright 2017 Library Journal, LLC Used with permission.

  • School Library Journal

    September 1, 2017

    Ko is the deserving recipient for the 2016 PEN/Bellwether Prize for this socially engaged novel. Raised in rural China, bold Peilan realizes she is pregnant and decides she does not care to be a wife. She knows the best opportunities are in the United States, so she pays a loan shark to be smuggled to New York. Years later, Peilan, now "Polly," and her son, Deming, live in a cramped apartment in the Bronx. For Deming, life is good. But the day Polly doesn't come home, 11-year-old Deming must start a new life. Adopted by a white couple from rural New York, Deming Guo becomes Daniel Wilkinson. In a predominantly white town, Daniel's coming-of-age is difficult. At a low point in his college years, he unexpectedly discovers a link to his mother and embarks on a journey to find her-and, thus, himself again. Ko adroitly moves back and forth in time and between New York and China. The two parallel and sometimes overlapping stories come full circle as Peilan becomes Polly, Deming becomes Daniel, and the two return to their original names. Mastering English becomes an important status symbol to Polly, just as reclaiming his childhood language of Fuzhounese becomes vital to Daniel's own identity. VERDICT Ko's characters and their experiences will resonate with most readers. This moving work will particularly appeal to students interested in issues such as undocumented immigrants, poverty, cross-racial adoption, and second-generation Americans.-Tara Kehoe, formerly at the New Jersey State Library Talking Book and Braille Center, Trenton

    Copyright 2017 School Library Journal, LLC Used with permission.

  • Kirkus

    February 1, 2017
    A Chinese woman who works in a New York nail salon doesn't come home one day; her young son is raised by well-meaning strangers who cannot heal his broken heart.We meet Bronx fifth-grader Deming Guo on the day his mother disappears without a trace. From there, the story moves both forward and backward, intercutting between the narrative of his bumpy path to adulthood and his mother's testimony. Gradually the picture comes together--Deming was conceived in China and born in America because his unmarried mother, Peilan, decided she would rather borrow the $50,000 to be smuggled to America than live out her life in her rural village. After her baby is born she tries to hide him underneath her sewing machine at work, but clearly she cannot care for him and work enough to repay the loan shark. She sends him back to China to be raised by her aging father. When Deming is 6, Yi Ba dies, and the boy rejoins his mother, who now has a boyfriend and lives with him; his sister, Vivian; and her son, Michael. After Peilan disappears, Deming is shuffled into foster care--his new parents are a pair of white academics upstate. Ten years later, it is Michael who tracks down a college dropout with a gambling problem named Daniel Wilkinson and sends a message that, if he is Deming Guo, he has information about his mother. The twists and turns continue, with the answers about Peilan's disappearance withheld until the final pages. Daniel's involvement in the alternative music scene is painted in unnecessary detail, but otherwise the specificity of the intertwined stories is the novel's strength. Ko's debut is the winner of the 2016 Pen/Bellwether Prize for Fiction for a novel that addresses issues of social justice, chosen by Barbara Kingsolver. This timely novel depicts the heart- and spirit-breaking difficulties faced by illegal immigrants with meticulous specificity.

    COPYRIGHT(2017) Kirkus Reviews, ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.

  • Booklist

    March 15, 2017
    When Deming is 11, his Chinese American mother vanishes, leaving him with a surrogate family that, no longer able to provide for him, places him with foster parents, two academics who move Deming from New York City to upstate New York and subsequently adopt him. Flash-forward 10 years. Now 21, aimless Deming has flunked out of college, more interested in his music than his studies but always wondering about his mother. How could she have left him? Where is she? Then, after all these years, he learns she has returned to China, and, securing her phone number, he calls her. The action then shifts from his point of view to the first-person voice of his absent mother, telling her side of the story. Will son and mother be reunited? Though obviously skillfully writtenit's a winner of the PEN/Bellwether Prize for Socially Engaged Fictionthe book can sometimes be difficult to read, thanks to its bleak subject matter, which, nevertheless, is reflective of today's reality. Those who are interested in closely observed, character-driven fiction will want to leave room for The Leavers on their shelves.(Reprinted with permission of Booklist, copyright 2017, American Library Association.)

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