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The Leavers
The Leaversmattylie (11)
A book review


The LeaversJSchiedelAnderson (3)

Was anyone else irked by Polly's leaving Yong in response to her relief of reconnecting with Deming? I understand that she felt disconnected from herself due to trying to survive with a devastating separation. I also understand that Polly was never her true self going into that relationship. But I can't help but feel bad for Yong. It's like he got used for 8 years until she reconnected with Deming and could move on. I felt disappointed that that Polly's response to her relief of reconnecting with Deming was to leave her husband. (I recognize my values impact my feelings towards this.) Polly's previous "leavings" were based on lack of opportunities and, of course, the imprisonment and deportation weren't her choice. One could argue that Polly's choice to leave this time is a liberation of herself. I wish that Polly could experience some growth in learning how to face life without choosing the "flight" option. Hopefully, in her new space she will be able to create a life for herself that she won't feel the need to escape from.

The LeaversLanaVolkov (13)
Unloving Mom

Still haven't finished reading the book, still have a 1/4 to go, but I can't shake the feeling of Polly being a detached and un-loving mom. I guess she cares about her son, but not enough to stay, not enough to fight for him, not enough to share the knowledge that she has a son with her new husband. It seems like she is very selfish, always thinking about herself first, her freedom, and motherhood was a real trap for her. I just can't connect on an emotional level with this kind of a character. Deming also seemed like a teenage brat most of the book - he is not grateful for his adoptive parents, takes them for granted, while still holding a grudge to his real mom... Just let it go! it has been years... Learn how to live your life. Instead he is gambling away money that is not his, being rude to Kay... I am just disappointed with both of them.

barnold165 (21)
I felt this way about Polly for most of the book, it changed briefly, but ultimately I still struggled with her attachment (or lack thereof) to Demming.
DebbieB (1)
I hope you finish the book. I think you'll think differently of Polly at the end. I got to a slow spot in the book, but I'm glad I kept reading. I did really feel for Polly and all she went through, as well as Deming. I'm glad I finished the book.
KarolinaBartosik (2)
Just wait! See what happens. It'll become clear. I agree, and I still have mixed feelings. But I think it makes the book more interesting that the characters are so hopelessly flawed.
The LeaversMaiLe (6)
Not Sure

I thought Daniel was extremely unfair to his adoptive parents and I thought the author's portrayal of the adoptive parents was a little one-dimensional. Really, are they progressive, liberal, well-educated professors and they're that out of touch with minorities? Maybe that's a reality for some people, but I found it so frustrating that Daniel just kept resenting them without ever opening his freaking mouth. While I can't imagine being in his position, his passivity annoyed me to no end.

Betty (2)
I thought the book illustrates the importance of an infant's attachment to a main caregiver from the beginning of life, and if the connection isn't made, how it becomes a generational problem: the inability to both adequately receive love or to give it.
The LeaversCerebroCaro (3)
Powerful writing and Synesthesia

I loved two things specifically about this book. I love the importance put behind little things, for example: I think the changing throughout the book of whether Deming/Daniel called himself either Deming or Daniel is very subtly important. I think that distinction is very closely tied to his self-identity in that moment. Second, I definitely got a strong vibe from this book that D is a synesthete. If you don't know what Synesthesia is I would google it really quickly because it's really a fascinating topic. I have been described as being a synesthete by a friend (I didn't know what it was at the time). He told me about it after I told him about me "seeing" the music he recommended to me. He looked so confused when I told him that I preferred one song over the other because it sounded "less orange-y". The way the author described D's thoughts about different songs and his own deep passion and talent for music, she must be a synesthete herself because it was spot on.

Anyway, sorry if other people have already pointed these things out I haven't had a chance to scroll down and read all of the other posts yet :)

MaryBethHills (2)
Yes! I absolutely agree. I love that he talked about songs/music as different colors and I totally noticed it too. Although I didn't notice the part about the colors changing depending on whether he was going by Deming/Daniel.. I'll have to go back and look for that!
The LeaversSoranaR (26)
Is this book about racism or is it about a boy and his mom?

I have to start off by saying I love a good immigrant story, especially the ones that fully explore the differences (or even underlying similarities) between cultures. When I chose this book, I noticed several people discuss the struggle of fitting in and maybe some racism that's touched upon when the main character is adopted and "forced" to acclimate to the suburban life. All this made me really want to dive in!

After finishing the book, I'm not sure this really is an immigrant story. Deming's adoptive parents do try to raise him as their own and part of their community, but I really didn't view them as monsters trying to force a Chinese kid to become white. They were people who struggled with fertility and adopted a child, gave him an English name for his sake, and tried to support him in his later life to attend university so he would be well off as an adult, as any parent would. Their friends on the other hand were those cliches who think they know everything about a country because they visited one time and majored in that concentration in college. But Peter and Kay didn't strike me as those cliches and I think they were unfairly pivoted against Peilan.

I think at the end of the book, my feeling was that this was really about Deming wanted to make sure his mother didn't leave him intentionally, not that he has an identity struggle and is trying to find his place in either culture. I think it ultimately came down to wanting to be near his mother, and whether that was in China or here, is sort of irrelevant. What do you guys think?

JenONeal (30)
I'd say it was both stories. One of the things I really love about reading is how the personal experience of a single character can be cracked open to reveal larger universal truths. I think immigrant stories for people living them out might look like a mother-son story or a boyfriend-girlfriend story or a work vs. home story. Deming's story line is, I think less of an immigrant story and more of a first-gen story, as that's what he was. His relationship with his mother is entangled with his relationship to Chinese culture (I'm specifically remembering how/when he loses/gains his speaking skills) and his relationship with his adoptive parents is entangled with his relationship to white American culture. He belongs to both.
Kayla (110)
I love your synopsis here, Jen. Deming straddled two worlds, if not externally then certainly internally, for much of his life. What was most striking to me was that even after finding his mother, he chose to return to New York. For so long he believed his mother to be "home", and it turned out that he was not the same boy he was when she left.
Kayla (110)
I felt that this novel was about the immigrant experience, but it was embedded in the plotline more so than other recent novels I have read. For example, throughout the book Deming discusses trouble fitting in, how no one looks like him, how he misses aspects of his culture. Much of this perspective is from his childhood days as he struggles to fit in at school (and he does discuss some mistreatment by others in terms of slang language or awkward looks and stares). For me, the immigrant story came through more so in Polly's perspective. The descriptions of the jobs held by Polly and Leon were a troubling reminder of how difficult it really can be to remake yourself from nothing ... even in America. I found it interesting that a job 'hierarchy' emerged between factory jobs, nail salons, waitressing - even though all of these jobs are considered low skill among most Americans. The fear these individuals felt from possibly being arrested and transported to the treatment they experienced in the holding centers really touched me because these are not fears that I have ever had to worry about in my own life. For me, the immigrant story came through in the details, and I found that I really liked that approach because it was so carefully incorporated into the broader story.
SoranaR (26)
I definitely agree about Polly and Leon's experiences. Maybe Deming just didn't resonate with me as much. There were moments that indeed describe how he didn't fit in but it seemed not as convincing or heartbreaking as what the adults were going through.
Joanne2017 (2)
I agree with you. I did enjoy the book.
The LeaversKelsey (28)
Couldn't get into it...

I was really excited to dive into this book as I love family sagas, and love books about families from different cultures. But...for some reason I just could not get into the book or come to care for any of the characters. When I read a book like this, where the plot is primarily focused on relationships and growing up, I want to feel for the characters - love or hate them, I want to care about them in some way. I just didn't get that with this book which bummed me out.

I did enjoy the writing of the story and it was a quick read. Ultimately though, I closed the book feeling disappointed and disengaged.

To be fair, Pachinko is a really hard book to follow, so maybe if I hadn't just read that beautiful story, I would have connected more with this one.

barnold165 (21)
Completely agree-- glad that I still have Pachinko on my to-read list.
RachelHullett (2)
Just finished this one and I agree completely! I absolutely adored Pachinko, but The Leavers left me cold. I found Peilan mildly intriguing, but I just could not get invested in Deming. It was a very technically well made book, but I put it down feeling relieved to be done with these characters, which was a shame. I'd been really hoping to love this one.
CaseyFederico (3)
100% agree! ADORED Pachinko and was excited to read The Leavers but ended up being disappointed. 3 star read where as Pachinko was 5+ stars
The LeaversKayla (110)
A Novel of Self Exploration

This book unpacked so many themes related to self-identity and family. How do we define ourselves? Is family what we are born into or can we shape our own? Can you recreate yourself?

As I read this novel, I was impacted by Daniel/Deming's constant struggle to fit in, and how the loss of his family made him feel like an outsider, no matter where he was. So many of his actions were driven by a desire to be both true to himself and to meet the expectations everyone imposed on him. The ending, for me, was fitting because Deming finally was confident enough to pursue what HE wanted in life - to go after dreams or avenues that he previously felt too insecure or too undeserving to obtain.

The author also did a great job exploring family dynamics. What makes someone family? Is there a need to simply know from where we came? While Peter and Kay loved Deming, it was painful to read about their interactions and attempts at assimilation. And yet, when Deming is with Polly on his birthday, I felt discomfort at the pain it was causing Peter and Kay. This couple had adopted and incorporated Deming into their family, and yet, they never truly accepted him. It makes me wonder how frequently this happens, in which adopted children lose their heritage, values, or even identities for the sake of being loved by anyone.

Overall, the character development was outstanding. The writing enjoyable and fast paced. I wanted to know what happened and was thinking about this book even when I couldn't actually read it. I would highly recommend this to other readers who have enjoyed similar immigrant-based novels (Exit West, Behold the Dreamers).

MaryBethHills (2)
Yes yes yes! Great review. I agree 100% with that you just said!
The LeaversKayla (110)
Just Started and WOW

I am on about page 75 of this book, and I already feel so connected to the characters. After I got through the first chapter, I was hooked. It is painful to read about Deming's forced assimilation into a majority-White culture - even if it is done in from a place of good intention. I desperately want to know what happened to Deming's mother Polly, and already cannot imagine that she would have just left him behind. Whenever I am not reading this book it is on my mind and I hope that the ending is as powerful as the beginning. I know some individuals have commented that they were not able to get into this book, but I hope others are inspired by it as I am.

AllyKroegiemeister (1)
I am still reading this book as well, and I couldn't be happier. I chose "Since We Fell" for this month, but went by the library and saw they had it so I picked it up. I instantly found it is a good read so far. I am more interested in the culture aspect of why Polly maybe left Deming. Personally I know someone in a different culture that was abandoned as well. I am hoping the ending is just as great as the beginning.
The Leaversgabriellew (6)
Couldn't stand it

I wanted so badly to like this book. It had such a great concept, but I couldn't stand the writing. The writing style grated on my nerves and I couldn't keep reading. I tried to read it for 3 days and only got to page 35. Honestly when I saw "Snow fell like clots of wet laundry" on the first page I knew I shouldn't have gotten it. I wish I could give this book back.

FernJ (10)
Don't get me wrong. I liked this book very much. But there was some emotional connection to Daniel and his mother that was missing for me. I think that maybe the combination of the writing style, as you point out, and the simplicity (Daniel bought a ticket for a flight from Syracuse to Fuzhou in the middle of the night that left the following afternoon...not sure if he needed a visa but that still seems unrealistic) made the story not quite compelling to me. I loved Behold the Dreamers, Pachinko, and Exit West. I felt the characters' experiences as immigrants much more acutely in those books than I did in this one. Just wondering if anyone else felt the same way.
LauraC (20)
Yes, exactly. I liked this book but always felt at a distance from the characters and slightly exasperated by the characters and their choices. Daniel/Deming complicates his life unnecessarily so many times that after a while you start to wonder if he will ever learn from his mistakes. Polly/Peilan has a similar history, however, and I feel that she does finally learn and find her place and that Daniel/Deming is headed toward that in the end. It feels appropriate that mother and son should struggle with such similar issues, and perhaps, the author was trying to imply that Deming and Peilan both suffered from mother issues due to Peilan losing her mother so young? I felt like it was all there but subtle and regardless of intention it made the characters difficult for me to connect with and really root for them and/or identify with them. I also loved Pachinko and Behold the Dreamers but not so much Exit West.
RachelHullett (2)
I agree 100%. I haven't read Behold the Dreamers, but I loved both Pachinko and Exit West; with both of those books I felt very connected to the characters and I felt the pain of their struggles in a very visceral way. The Leavers left me cold - I pitied Deming in a sort of abstract way, and the novel got me thinking about the horrors of real world ICE camps, but in the chapter where Peilan chronicled her time there, I felt nothing for her in particular. Her experiences sounded horrible because she said they were, but I never really felt it. This book was just lacking in any sort of emotional resonance for me, which is unfortunate as the characters go through some heart-wrenching experiences and I'd like to have felt more connected.
MattyTee (3)
I agree somewhat... The analogies were gag worthy and they drove me to almost put the book down.. but I gave it the good ol' 100 page try. Finally, I had the "ah-ha" moment on page 109 when it seemed like the author grew comfortable with the telling of the story. I am now half way done, and I can't wait to find out what happens next.
KristineCoumbe (27)
I agree the phrase " The snow fell like clots of wet laundry." Was so strange. I am just starting and hope the writing improves.