This book was a selection of my local library book club, I hadn’t heard of it and went into it knowing nothing about it; however, it was a National Book Award finalist in 2017 and received other accolades. I did go into it expecting something good and I was overall was left pleased but underwhelmed with the experience.
Deming and his mother Polly live in New York city. She was born in rural China and has come to America to have a better life. When the novel begins, Deming is around 10 and Polly works at a nail salon. They live together with her boyfriend and his sister and one child, and we know little of the origins of their living situation, or their arrival to America. One day, she disappears and his world is irrevocably changed as he is fostered and later adopted by a white family in northern New York state.
Ko jumps from Deming to his mother, from the present to the past, and you get a full picture of both his life to present (early 20s) and his mothers life from teen years through her time with Deming in New York, and the present. The characters are rich and nuanced; however, for me the story dragged a bit initially and it wasn’t until later that I found the story engaging. Initially the characters seemed a bit one dimensional and I don’t think that in the end Ko went far enough to resolve some of the plot lines and ideas. I am still not sure what she was trying to say about his adoptive parents, and felt that they were relegated to an “other” and not given as flushed out stories as the other characters, but maybe that was the point?
Ultimately my issue is that I am still not sure what Ko is trying to say, so I think it was well written but I am left unresolved about how I feel about this book.