This book has huge parts in it that are really really good. And in fact, her two main characters are so interesting and developed and satisfying, it’s a shame that the big flaw/issue I have with this book mars it so much.
In this novel, a young Fuzhou boy living in New York City with his undocumented mother and various family and friends finds himself in the New York foster system after his mom disappears one day.
Purportedly, she went to Florida for a job, but next he knows he is with a white family in upstate.
The novel then splits its time in a few different sections: young Deming Guo, the older now-named Daniel Wilkinson, and the first person narrative of Peilan Guo writing her narrative of explanation to Deming for her disappearance.
Through and through it’s a heartfelt novel that tells a meaningful and interesting story as Daniel contends with Deming and looks for his mother.
Here’s the issue:
It’s either edited to death or under-written. I am not sure what the creation of this novel was going for but there’s a presumed tension between Daniel and his white parents that the novel just doesn’t support. I think there’s a story to be told about why the parents act the way they do and why they react so strongly to Daniel’s actions but there’s too much left out in the discussion for the relationship to exist as it is. Basically, the relationship as it’s written just doesn’t work.
The issue, hopefully, is that parts were left out, but the other possibility is that the characters are lifeless, flat stereotypes of well-meaning but problematic white adopters.
The issue for me is that so many of the blurbs talk about social justice and topical and other buzzwords that I worry that it was intentional or editorial. I think the book could be very good, but might have ended up being a victim of a marketplace decision more than a writerly choice.
Also Barbara Kingsolver blurbing this book, but making her career off a novel where a white woman steals an Native American baby with no consequences doesn’t convince me too much.