Book Review: The Leavers – Lisa Ko

Book Review: The Leavers – Lisa Ko

Release Date:
24th April 2018
Publisher: Dialogue Books
Pages: 368
Find it on: Goodreads. BookDepository. Waterstones.
Source: The publisher kindly sent me a copy of this book to review.


One morning, Deming Guo’s mother, an undocumented Chinese immigrant named Polly, goes to her job at the nail salon and never comes home. No one can find any trace of her.

With his mother gone, eleven-year-old Deming is left with no one to care for him. He 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.

Set in New York and China, The Leavers is a vivid and moving examination of borders and belonging. It’s the story of how one boy comes into his own when everything he’s loved has been taken away–and how a mother learns to live with the mistakes of her past.


This is a beautiful sad story of a young Chinese boy named Deming who’s mother disappears and his world is turned upside down when he is adopted by two wealthy white college professors. They give him a ‘more American name’ in the form of Daniel Wilkinson. The book follows Deming as he attempts to adjust to this new life as well as understand the mother that abandoned him.

book cover (30)This is a really powerful and moving story and one that I think is really important. It’s easy to see why this quiet tale has won so many awards because they are very well deserved. The writing is beautiful and really explores what it means to belong as well as issues around race and identity. I found myself completely absorbed in this book and it is an absolutely stunning debut novel.

This timely book is very character driven, focusing on the relationships between the characters and how you identify yourself based on your family and those around you. It explores different time periods in Deming’s life – his time with his mother before she left, his adjustment to life as the son of Peter and Kay as well as more recently as a struggling student with a gambling problem. It is at times heartbreaking but I definitely think this is a book everyone should take the time to read. If you’re looking for a strong emotional tale, this is definitely the kind of book you’re looking for.
4 stars

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