The Leavers

by Lisa Ko, 2017

Good book about Chinese mother (Polly Guo) and son (Deming Guo) separated when Deming was 11 years old. He thinks his Mama abandoned him. He is adopted by a white couple in upstate New York but never feels comfortable there and his heart aches for his Mama. Finally, at the age of 20, he finds out what happened to her and begins the road back to himself.

It turns out, his Mama was rounded up in an immigration bust at the nail salon in which she worked and taken to a place called Ardsleyville in Texas. She was allowed to make one phone call but she couldn’t remember her fiance’s (Leon) number so no one ever knew what happened to her. She was kept there over a year and then deported back to China. She eventually found Leon (Leon was the Chinese man she fell in love with in New York City and they were going to get married; he was like a father to Deming), or he found her, and she learned Deming had been adopted by a family and decided to not disrupt his life, thinking he was happier. Meanwhile, Deming, who has been renamed Daniel Wilkinson, is struggling. He is deeply unhappy, addicted to gambling, owing $10,000 to his friend, Angel; trying to make it as a guitarist, but nothing ever works out. Eventually, his old friend Michael finds him and tells him his mom is in China. He flies there, finds her, learns the whole story of what happened to her, forgives her, goes back to NYC and begins to build the life he truly wants, playing the music he wants to play, teaching guitar, working at a Mexican restaurant, paying back his friend, Angel, and feeling good, loved and accepted. It was a good book.

Here is my favorite quote from the book:

Maybe it wasn’t about moving to new places, but about the challenge of staying put.

Pg 196 Polly decides not to move to Florida but rather to stay and marry Leon. The next day, however, the ICE come to the nail salon, arrest her and others, take her to Ardsleyville, where she is never heard from again, or at least not for years.