The Leavers: A Novel - Lisa Ko

This was an amazing book, on a difficult, timely issue. It feels truthful, since it represents many points of view and the complexities of immigration, without candy-coating anything. There are no heroes in this story, and most, if not all of the characters are flawed in some way. There were parts that made me ambivalent when I did not feel empathetic enough — Polly enters the country owing $50,000 to a loan shark and pregnant, which hardly seems like the better life she longs to give her unborn child. When this better life includes a trip for her son back to China to live with family for years, I wondered why she didn't let him stay where he was loved and settled. Instead, her son suffers a return to an unfamiliar land (and parent), and we begin to see that the life Polly imagined for him will only be achieved once she leaves him for good. This new life is far from perfect, and, while Polly's son Deming struggles with his own identity, Ko brings into focus the many small hypocrisies of a privileged white mindset that, despite more liberal leanings, often reinforces old stereotypes.


I don't usually quote other reviews, but I have to agree with this perfect one-sentence blurb from the New York Times Book Review, "Lisa Ko has taken the headlines and has reminded us that beyond them lie messy, brave, extraordinary, ordinary lives.” 


Despite any misgivings I had, this was a moving, though-provoking debut, and sets the bar high for Ko's next work.