Debut novel The Leavers by Lisa Ko tackles the Chinese immigrant experience in America from the perspectives of Deming Guo and his undocumented mother Peilan/Polly.
When Polly disappears one day, leaving eleven-year-old Deming in New York without explanation, money, or hope, her friends are forced to put him up for adoption. He is adopted by two white academics and renamed Daniel. Deming/Daniel’s adopted parents are well-meaning but emotionally clueless and culturally ignorant, unwilling or unable to recognize Deming’s old life, his fragile emotional state, and the unresolved loss of his birth mother.
Most of the relationships in this book are borderline uncomfortable and fraught, the characters hold each other at arm’s length and are divided by miscommunications and unspoken assumptions; they are unable to truly connect. While I understand the way this emotional divide gives voice to the immigrant experience, shows a cultural identity and character arc in flux, and explores a “them” and “us” dynamic, I ultimately felt sadly indifferent about the characters, couldn’t fully comprehend their decisions, and was left feeling lackluster about the story by the end of the book.