cover image The Leavers

The Leavers

Lisa Ko. Algonquin, $25.95 (352p) ISBN 978-1-61620-688-8

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. (Apr.)