Thanks to Little Brown UK for providing me an ARC copy of this book and for inviting me to participate in the blog tour on the occasion of the UK book’s launch.
The Leavers comes highly recommended (winner of the PEN/Bellwether Prize for Socially Engaged Fiction) and it feels particularly relevant to the historical times we live in. The plight of emigrants, issues of ethnic and national identity, transnational adoptions, alternative family structures and mother and son relationships. There is plenty of talk and official discourses about laws, building walls, and placing the blame on Others for the problems of a country these days, but this is nothing new. As I read the book, I could not help but think that the situation is a cyclical one, and perhaps the countries the immigrants come from, go to, or their circumstances change over time, but people keep moving. Sometimes they are met with open arms and others, not so much.
This novel is divided into four parts, and it is narrated by two characters. Peilan (Polly) is a young Chinese woman who initially leaves her fishing village for the city (to have access to better opportunities) and eventually takes on huge debt to move to America, already pregnant. She narrates her story in different time-frames (she recalls past events back in China, the difficult time when she had the baby and could not work in New York, her hard decision to send her child to live with her father in China, and the boy’s return after her father’s death), in the first person, first in America, and later, in present-day China. Deming (Daniel), her son, is born in America, shipped back to China, then back to America, and eventually ends up being adopted by a white American family. His story is told in the third person, and we follow him from age 11 (and some earlier memories) all the way to his early twenties. This is the story of two character’s growth, their struggle to discover (or rediscover) who they are and to make sense of their complex history.
The book is beautifully written, with enthralling descriptions of places, sounds, and emotions. If water and nature are particularly significant for Peilan, music makes life meaningful for Daniel and gives him an identity beyond nation and ethnic origin. Like our memories, the book is contemplative and meandering, and the thoughts of both characters reflect well how our minds work, as a smell, a sound, or a glimpsed figure can conjure up an image or a flood of emotions linked to a particular moment in time.
There is a mystery at the centre of the story. Polly leaves her son and nobody knows why. The alternating points of view put the readers in both roles and make us feel lost and abandoned on the one side, and on the other feel puzzled, as we clearly see that Polly loves her son, although she might have felt desperate and done extreme things at times. The explanation, when it eventually comes, is heart-wrenching and particularly poignant in view of some of the policies being enforced and implemented by some countries. Although it is not a traditional mystery novel, and it does not lose its power even if the readers get a clear idea of what had happened, I will try and avoid spoilers.
Both characters feel real, understandable and easy to empathise with, although not necessarily always likeable or immediately sympathetic. Deming is no star pupil, studious and well-behaved, and he makes many mistakes and has a talent for doing the wrong thing and upsetting almost everybody around him. Polly keeps her emotions under wraps; she works hard and puts up with incredibly hard situations until she suddenly does something that comes as a big surprise to everyone who knows her. They are not the perfect Norman Rockwell family by any stretch of the imagination, but that is what makes them more poignant and gives the novels its strength. It is easy to accept and sympathise with those we like and we feel are exceptional cases, but every case is unique and exceptional. The secondary characters are well-drawn and not simple fillers for the main story, their circumstances and personalities are interesting and believable, and the subject of the Deming’s adoption is afforded the nuance and complexity it deserves. The book deals with those issues from a personal perspective, but it is impossible to read it and not think about the effect that policies and politics have on the lives of so many people.
I highlighted many fragments of the book and it is difficult to select some that don’t reveal much of the plot, but I will try.
Instead of friends, Kay and Peter had books they read in bed at night. (Kay and Peter are Daniel’s adoptive parents).
He counted the heartbeats during that little catch between songs, savoring the delicious itch as the needle dropped and the melody snuck its toe out from behind a curtain.
A record was to be treasured, its circle scratches a mysterious language, a furtive tattoo.
“And that is it?” you said. “You forgot me?” “I didn’t forget. I just survived.”
Everyone had stories they told themselves to get through the days.
This novel reminded me of two of the books nominated for the Booker Prize I read last year, one of the finalists, Exist West by Mohsin Hamid (which explores emigration in a very novel way), and the other one Home Fire by Kamila Shamsie (which also deals with identity and displacement, but it was the character of the brother and his descriptions of music that brought the book to my mind). I recommend it to readers who enjoyed those two books, and also readers interested in memory, identity, emigration, adoption (especially across ethnic and national boundaries) or anybody keen to discover a new writer who can paint images, emotions, and sounds with her words.
I received this book for free from the authors in exchange for an honest review.
This book started off really strong. There was a lot of intrigue, which made this a complete page turner. I just couldn’t put it down! I needed to know what happened to Ashley.
Then the ending came and I was a bit disappointed. It wasn’t as big of a reveal as I thought it was going to be. I was expecting a huge twist that usually comes with thrillers, but instead it was more subdued. That being said I still enjoyed the book overall.
I really liked how the authors combined chick lit elements with thriller/suspense elements. The book was a strong blend of the two genres. The setting really helped with that. Mexico was perfect for this story to take place in.
As for the characters, I wasn’t a big fan of any of them. All three of the main characters annoyed me at some point. I just couldn’t get over some of their reasonings for the things they did and the attitudes they held. They were all a little too self absorbed and it was hard to feel any sympathy towards them.
Overall, if you’re looking to unwind and want to read a fast paced and thrilling beach read for the summer, be sure to check out this book!
Please note that I received this book via NetGalley. That did not impact my rating or review.
First off, this book promised to be laugh out loud funny, it wasn't. I guess in 2018 I don't find racist white people (even if fictional) hilarious. It also talks about exploring the relationships between mothers and daughters and friends (sure, at a very superficial level). I do think that I was officially done though when we had a black character not only bash Obamacare and claiming it made poor people poorer, but when that same character did a well both sides are at fault here when discussing racism in America. You just got the Beyonce "Boy Bye" middle finger wave from me here. "Rush" seemed like a funny send up of sorority life in America. Too bad it was not.
"Rush" is mimicking "The Help". We get multiple POVs. We got a black character talking about taking care of her babies (she's only 44). We got a white character who is going to do what she can to make things better not only for the woman she has supposedly grown close to after speaking to her I think twice at this point in the book, but for all of the staff (the help) that work at the sorority. We also have another character who is foolish as the day as long.
"Rush" starts off with Miss Pearl talking about her babies and taking care of the girls of Alpha Delta Beta for 25 years. Miss Pearl is going nowhere fast. She works the sorority, but does not get paid during the summer when the school/sorority is closed, and is struggling to make ends meet. When a possible promotion arises to House Mother, Miss Pearl is encouraged by her aunt (who is also a cook at the sorority) but the current House Mother as well.
The second POV comes from Wilda. She's nervous about her daughter going to Ole Miss since that means she is now officially an empty-nester. When an opportunity comes up that will allow her to keep an eye on her daughter and also volunteer for Alpha Delta Beta she jumps at the chance.
Cali Watkins is struggling to fit in at Ole Miss. She has a secret she is hiding from not only her roommate (Jasmine) but also her new best friend Ellie (Wilda's mother).
The three POVs did not work together very well at all.
Miss Pearl's voice was way too subservient to me. Even when she was having problems with a fellow worker, she just seemed way too passive. There is even a scene where one of her "babies" touches her hair without permission and instead of telling her not to touch her hair, goes to herself, well some of these girls parents didn't teach them manners (eyeroll). I also really really hated this character talking about racism and giving one of the secondary characters (Lilith Whitmore) a free pass for her racism and outright hatred towards her at the end of this book. You can't be forgiven for something if I don't really think you even absorb what you did. The book fast forwards to two weeks later so I guess that's enough time for people to just not be racist anymore.
I was bored by Cali's POV from beginning to end. Her supposed close relationship to Miss Pearl didn't even work since they don't meet until around the 60 percent mark. Cali saying she felt close to Miss Pearl on bid day just didn't ring true. You all talked for maybe 10 minutes. When Cali and Ellie decide to fight Lilith Whitmore the book just didn't ring true at all. I have not been part of a sorority. I was chased after during my undergraduate years to join, but I was not in the mood to be part of something where the majority of the sororities were predominantly white. Even girls who joined who were African American were very very light skinned. This was all back in 1997 by the way. So though I have not been part of the Greek life as they say. I have a hard time with the way the events in this book are portrayed. I don't want to spoil things for potential readers, but a few times I went, yeah sure that doesn't make any sense at all, but whatever.
Wilda's POV should have been in a separate book. Frankly I was more interested in her POV. Dealing with two sons who are grown living their separate lives. She has her youngest daughter at Ole Miss. However, she gets caught up with keeping up with the Jones's and agrees to have her daughter room with Lilith Whitmore's daughter. That is the beginning of a disaster of her own making. When it comes up that the girls should split the cost of a dorm room decorator (yeah I was nonplussed myself) Wilda goes behind her husband's back to make sure he has no idea what she has done. Wilda has some backbone here and there. She actually calls out Lilith's racism to her face, but she still like all other characters in this book were so passive.
The secondary characters were not developed very well. We have uber racist Lilith Whitmore who does remind me of so many white people I have met in my life. When she tries to explain later about why she is the way she is I rolled my eyes a thousand times. Go kick rocks.
Wilda's daughter Ellie would have been a better POV or at least a better additional POV. I really didn't get much a sense from her besides she really liked Cali, and could not stand rooming with Lilith's daughter (Annie Laurie). Speaking of Annie Laurie, she was just nasty for nasty sake and once again got a redemption that was not deserved at all.
I will say that Wilda's husband was interesting and they seemed like a pretty happy couple. I wish that we had seen more fall-out discussion between them after all the secrets Wilda was hiding comes out.
The writing was okay. I can at least say you will definitely know the characters voices are separate. I just didn't care for all of the characters. I also thought the flow was up and down too much. We would have Cali talking to Miss Pearl and then the book would jump to the next chapter that was still Cali's POV. The POVs I don't think were evenly distributed. I can't tell in my ARC version very well, so will say that it seems that Wilda and Cali got more POVs than Miss Pearl did.
This book takes place in 2016 and I love that the author does not only mention the Presidential election, but manages to get some digs at Obama in there. Taking place at Ole Miss, which is obviously in Mississippi just about killed me. I guess we are not going to talk about the atrocities that have occurred in that state. That state had the murder of James Craig Anderson in 2011 by a group of white teenagers. But you go ahead and tell me how black people need to let go of things that have happened in the "past" and move forward instead of blaming white people.
The ending was more white savior nonsense. I just couldn't even get spun up about it at this point. Was glad to be done with this book.