The Leavers puts a face on illegal immigration and the challenges of belonging in a world where you speak a different language and may not resemble your peers in culture or appearance. This is the story of Peilan/Polly, an undocumented Chinese immigrant who came to America with hope for a brighter future. She was also single and pregnant. Initially ambivalent about having the child, when her son is born, she loves him fully and without hesitation. Polly's life is filled with hardship and fatigue, forcing her to acknowledge she cannot adequately care for Deming/Daniel, so she sends him back to China to live with her father. When her father dies, Deming returns to his mother in New York City and an unknown culture.
Five years later, Polly disappears, leaving Deming at the mercy of Polly's boyfriend and his sister. He ends up in foster care, and is adopted by a white couple who live in the suburbs in a completely different environment than he has ever known, and he is renamed Daniel. These adoptive parents provide support and encouragement throughout the years, but Deming/Daniel continues to wonder about his biological mother and where he belongs. This story evolves into the mystery regarding his mother's disappearance and how her abandonment has permeated his thoughts and actions.
Algonquin fiction rarely disappoints its readers with the quality and substance of its novels. This one is no exception. Lisa Ko is a talented author who writes with confidence about a subject that is heartbreakingly real and very timely. She won won the PEN/Bellwether prize for Socially Engaged Fiction for a novel that reminds us of the struggles many among us endure.