insightful. a must-read.
She wasn’t listening to him. He recalled how she and Peter had insisted on English, his new name, the right education. How better and more hinged on their ideas of success, their plans. Mama, Chinese, the Bronx, Deming: they had never been enough. He shivered, and for a brief, horrible moment, he could see himself the way he realized they saw him—as someone who needed to be saved.
You are eleven years old and live with your mother, an undocumented immigrant. One night, she does not return from work. Usually, she comes home with Chinese take out for dinner. Tonight, there is no Mom and no take out. You eat leftover scraps of lunch meat from the small drawer in the fridge. She doesn’t return the next day, the next day, or the day after that. She does not call. What do you do?
Deming Guo lives in the Bronx with his mother, Polly Guo. One evening, Polly does not return from work. He waits for her patiently, but she simply never returns. Months later, Deming is adopted by a wealthy, white couple in upstate New York. The adoptive parents, Kay and Peter Wilkinson, are professors at a nearby university. They immediately change Deming’s name to “Daniel” and raise him as their own child. This is not a “happily ever after” story.
I love this book. The Leavers is focused on the experience of transracial adoption (also called “interracial adoption”). The story is told from the points of view of both Polly and her son, Deming. Ko describes Deming’s crippling feelings of abandonment and a mother’s nightmarish loss of a child. I shed some tears reading this book (this doesn’t happen often). I highly recommend The Leavers. Seems that the NYT reviewer took issue with much of the “info-stuffed” dialogue– I didn’t notice it.