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One morning, Deming Guo’s mother Polly goes to her job at the nail salon and never comes home. Left with no one to care for him, eleven-year-old Deming is eventually adopted by two white college professors who move him from the Bronx to a small town upstate. They rename him Daniel Wilkinson in their efforts to make him over into their version of an “all-American boy.” But far away from all he’s ever known, Daniel struggles to reconcile his new life with his mother’s disappearance and the memories of the family and community he left behind.
A vivid and moving examination of borders and belonging,The Leavers is the story of how one boy comes into his own when everything he’s loved has been taken away—and how one woman learns to live with the mistakes of her past.
The Leavers won the 2016 PEN/Bellwether Award for Socially Engaged Fiction, a prize awarded by Barbara Kingsolver for a novel that addresses issues of social justice.
Read an excerpt from The Leavers.
Learn more about why I wrote the novel.
Praise for The Leavers:
“There was a time I would have called Lisa Ko’s novel beautifully written, ambitious and moving, and all of that is true, but it’s more than that now: if you want to understand a forgotten and essential part of the world we live in, The Leavers is required reading.” —Ann Patchett, author of Commonwealth
“Courageous, sensitive, and perfectly of this moment.” —Barbara Kingsolver, author of Flight Behavior
“A rich and sensitive portrait of lives lived across borders, cultures, and languages … One of the most engaging, deeply probing, and beautiful books I have read this year.” —Laila Lalami, author of The Moor’s Account
“In The Leavers, Lisa Ko has created one of the most courageous mother characters in recent memory. Polly is brash, brave, and heartbreaking and her ferocity is marvelous to behold. The Leavers is about the bonds between parents and children and the many pulls of home. It was a book I did not want to end.” —Kaitlyn Greenidge, author of We Love You, Charlie Freeman
“A sweeping examination of family…. 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.” —Publishers Weekly (starred review)
“Touching upon themes such as identity, determination, addiction, and loyalty, the author clearly shows readers that she is an emerging writer to watch. Ko’s writing is strong, and her characters, whether major or minor, are skillfully developed.”—Library Journal (starred review)
“Vividly written and moving, The Leavers is an engrossing story of one young boy struggling to adjust to his new life without his mother and community.” —Buzzfeed
“One of 2017’s most anticipated fiction debuts… The Leavers feels as relevant as ever as the future of immigrants in America hangs in the balance.” —TIME
“A must-read.” —Marie Claire
“Skillfully written… Those who are interested in closely observed, character-driven fiction will want to leave room for The Leavers on their shelves.” —Booklist
“A moving mother/son story and welcome contribution to immigrant literature. In writing about Polly and her son Deming, Ko captures one family’s unique experience of becoming American while also exposing the loss of status, economic desperation, physical endangerment, and psychological grit of the undocumented worker as well as the alienation, double consciousness, mobility, and comparative access of the first generation.” —Emily Raboteau, author of Searching for Zion
“A perfectly timed novel for this political landscape, The Leavers is an intense and poignant examination of immigration and those marked by it.” —Read it Forward
“This timely novel depicts the heart- and spirit-breaking difficulties faced by illegal immigrants with meticulous specificity.” —Kirkus Reviews
“Ko’s unforgettable narrative voice is a credit to the moving stories of immigration, loss, recovery, and acceptance that feel particularly suited for our times.” —NYLON Magazine
“Poignant and timely, this novel is ripe for discussion.” —Real Simple
“A masterful debut novel that examines borders and belonging, and the universal desire for love.” —Redbook
“The story’s most heartbreaking disclosures are powerful in their indictment of the unrealistic expectations placed upon struggling families.” —Foreword
“The Leavers describes the devastation caused by forced, abrupt and secret detentions that occur daily under our current Immigration Act [and] lets us feel the knife twist of sweeping government authority wielded without conscience or control. [Ko’s] work gives poignant voice to the fact the U.S. can, and must, write a better immigration system.” —Ms.
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