Blog Tour: The Leavers

I am a little bit in love with The Leavers, the debut novel from Lisa Ko. Seriously, a little bit in love. This book has wriggled under my skin and stopped there. I couldn’t stop reading it, and when I had to, I could think of little else but getting back to it. It’s quiet this book, quiet but wow so powerful and I am super excited to tell you all about it today so MAKE YOURSELF COMFORTABLE.


It’s about an American boy, Daniel Wilkinson (which was so WEIRD for me because my cousin is called Daniel Wilkinson also – fun aside, you’re welcome).

He’s not always been Daniel Wilkinson though, he used to be Deming Guo and he used to live in the Bronx with his Mum and her boyfriend and his sort of Aunt and her son. His Mum was an undocumented Chinese immigrant and one day she went to work at a nail salon like she did every day and just didn’t come home, which, wow that’s hard when you’re only 11 and hadn’t had the most stable start to life in the first place. Deming is put into foster care and later adopted by a rich couple – the Wilkinson’s – and spends the rest of his childhood and into early adulthood having no idea why his Mum, his only real person, just upped and left him and struggle with a whole load of things centred around where she went, and why, and what it’s like to be the only not-white kid in a neighbourhood the polar opposite of where he started out.

Intense, right?

Well yes.

But also no.

I mean yes, mostly. I am not going to lie to you here: this book is intense and wrenching and at times utterly heart-breaking because how can it not be?  But it’s also warm, and riveting and strangely…I don’t know? Heart-warming? I don’t know if that’s quite the right word.  Can I even use heart-warming when I’ve just used heart-breaking? I don’t know. It’s something though, something lighter than you’d expect from the blurb. It’s harrowing but it’s not hard to read, you know? It’s also beautifully written, so so beautifully written and we all know how much of a sucker I am for all the pretty words.

The book is split into four parts, which is a concept I liked a whole lot. We start with Deming as a little boy in the Bronx with his Mum and we follow him through her leaving and his adoption when he’s 11-12ish right though into early adulthood where he’s a little bit lost and a little bit angry and still not sure whether his anger at his Mother leaving should be directed at himself or at her.
From there we meet Polly, his mother, for real, and we get her side of the story, which is where this book totally comes into its own for me. I mean, it’s all good and there is so much good to say about the parts of the book told from Daniel’s POV and the interactions with him and his adoptive parents in particular really made me think, but this other part – Polly’s life in China before Deming, her life in America after he was born, and then her life back after Deming becomes Daniel - this was where the book really stood out for me, fully realised and so real you felt like if you closed your eyes and opened them again you’d be there – even though you really wouldn’t want to be. 
It didn’t feel like a work of fiction that’s the thing I think. I felt like I could have been reading something real and what gets me is that in some ways I probably was; this book is probably somebodies (a lot of somebodies) truth.

The whole thing, from start to finish is just completely fascinating, at the same time as being an epic, emotionally charged story that sweeps you up and utterly absorbs you. It’s SO GOOD. So good.  YOU SHOULD READ THIS BOOK PEOPLE.

If you want to know a secret, it is this: this is the kind of book I pick up because it sounds so good and then don’t read because it sounds so heavy and I am scared its going to make me feel the things and weigh me down and be hard so sits on my shelf for all of time. It is. Which is shameful but true and you know, reading it has made me want to go and really study my bookshelf to see what else is on there because books like this deserve to be read

Truth be told, this book is everything I love about reading. It has depth and it has feeling and the characters are so well drawn; for real, so well drawn and so perfectly flawed, all of them; there are no villains here, but neither is anybody perfect. It’s so timely and relevant and incredibly eye-opening – couldn’t we all benefit from a bit more knowledge on what it means to be an immigrant, though? - but it is also a book about nurture versus nature, about identity, about love, about not giving up – about choices and about holding on versus letting go (and what exactly it is we should be holding on to).

It’s…just masterful. I loved it.