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Last Updated on September 5, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 509

The Leavers by Lisa Ko, published in 2017, is a novel about the life of a young Chinese American boy named Deming Guo (later Daniel Wilkinson). Deming's mother, Peilan, flees China when she is pregnant with Deming, as she does not want to be pressured to marry Deming's father. Peilan...

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The Leavers by Lisa Ko, published in 2017, is a novel about the life of a young Chinese American boy named Deming Guo (later Daniel Wilkinson). Deming's mother, Peilan, flees China when she is pregnant with Deming, as she does not want to be pressured to marry Deming's father. Peilan believes that she might either miscarry or be able to procure an abortion once she arrives in the United States, only to discover that an abortion cannot be performed on someone who is seven months pregnant. After Peilan gives birth to Deming, she sends Deming back to China to live with her father until she can properly care for her son.
Once Peilan—now known by her American name, Polly—has saved enough money and is settled enough to support Deming, he is sent back to the US, where the two are reunited. Polly and Deming live in the Bronx with Polly's boyfriend, Leon, and Leon's young son, Michael, who is about the same age as Deming. Deming and Michael go to school, and Leon and Polly (who is undocumented) both work very long days. It is a difficult life, but the four members of the household are relatively content with the situation.

Everything seems to be going well until Polly disappears without a trace one day when Deming is eleven years old. Since Polly had previously spoken of moving to Florida, Deming wonders if perhaps Polly finally just decided to move there without telling anyone, but he cannot believe that she would leave without at least notifying him after the fact. When Deming asks Leon for more information, Leon simply states that Polly is "visiting friends." Deming is concerned that his mother has met with foul play, but the possibility that her troubles are tied to her immigration status never enters Deming's mind. The situation becomes even more complex once Leon goes missing, too.

With no parents left to look after him, Deming ultimately ends up being fostered by a couple in upstate New York: Kay and Peter. Kay and Peter, who are kind and well-meaning, decide to rechristen Deming as Daniel Wilkinson. They encourage Daniel to work hard in school. We read of Daniel's difficulty in adjusting to his new life and family and how out of place he feels as the only Asian person in an all-white upstate enclave.

Later, after having lost track of him years earlier, Daniel unexpectedly receives word from Michael. Daniel also eventually returns to China in an attempt to learn more about his mother and his own family's history, and he has to come to terms with the fact that his mother is not particularly maternal. He learns that Polly even tried to abandon him as a baby in New York but that she couldn't go through with it. It's not that Polly doesn't care for her son, but she has always had her own dreams, and being a mother was not part of those dreams. Still, mother and son are eventually reunited in China and find a measure of peace together.

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