The Leavers is a story of a mother and son torn apart by American immigration officials and oof was this a tough, timely read. Just like … be ready. There are a lot of award stickers on the cover and it deserves every one. I just wish the cover didn’t look so much like the one for The Girls because ugh that book.
I’m getting away from myself. The Leavers is about Polly and Deming Guo. They live in the Bronx with Polly’s boyfriend, his sister, and her son. She works in a nail salon, he goes to school. Then one day, when Deming is eleven, Polly doesn’t come home. The boyfriend goes back to China. Unable to care for this suddenly extra child, the sister signs him over to the state of New York and he is adopted by a white couple upstate. Deming becomes Daniel thrust into a world that doesn’t understand him. Ten years later, his life is still impacted by her unexplained absence and he still struggles to find his drive and to define himself outside of his families, new and old.
Deming/Daniel is a really fascinating character and his experiences force the reader (or at least, this white American reader) to evaluate what good fortune may or may not mean. Living in the Bronx, they were poor, living in too few rooms and deeply, astronomically in debt – but he had his mother and his heritage and people who understood him. When he is adopted by the well-intentioned Wilkersons, he suddenly has access to the material goods and support that so many of us define as good fortune and the keys to success, but his whole world has been turned upside down and nothing makes sense to him anymore.
And far more fascinating then Deming/Daniel is his mother, Polly. As a pregnant teenager she is smuggled into New York in a box and is immediately indebted tens of thousands of dollars to a loan shark, a total that only seems to increase. She scrambles and sacrifices to do what is best for her and her son, to move herself forward in this new world, and yeah, she’s kind of a bitch – because you don’t have to be likeable to be hardworking. Her story is heartbreaking and engaging and definitely read the author’s notes afterward because it is so, so real. This book is a must-read.