Review: The Leavers by Lisa Ko

Review: The Leavers by Lisa Ko

Hello there, and welcome to my stop on The Leavers blog tour. First off I’d like to say a huge thank you to Little, Brown for inviting me to read and review a copy of Lisa Ko’s debut novel. It’s a little out of my comfort zone and not the sort of book I would normally read, but I enjoyed it so much!

Before I share my thoughts on The Leavers, here’s a bit more information about the book:

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 powerful debut is the winner of the 2016 PEN/Bellwether Prize for fiction, awarded by Barbara Kingsolver for a novel that addresses issues of social justice.

So what did I think of The Leavers?

The Leavers by Lisa Ko review header

‘If you knew more about me, Deming, maybe you wouldn’t blame me so much. Maybe you would understand me more. I can only be as honest as I know how to be, even if it might not be what you want to hear.’

The Leavers is a timely exploration of the lives of immigrants in the US. Lisa Ko uses her debut novel to expose the exploitation of the most desperate people, humanising a group of society which have been ostracised by press and politics consistently in the recent past.

I’m going to avoid giving any spoilers, but what I can tell you is that Ko’s writing is elegant, captivating and utterly enjoyable. Despite the tough subject matter at hand, the story is beautiful, and despite its length – and the fact that it’s different to anything I’ve ever read before – I found myself being sucked in, and I read it in just a couple of sittings. 

The Leavers is emotionally absorbing: although I easily predicted what had happened to Polly, I couldn’t stop myself from eagerly turning the pages, desperate to find out where Deming/Daniel would end up and whether he would ever be reunited with his mother.

If you’re hoping to find a new author writing about difficult subjects with ease and sensitivity, look no further. It’ll be interesting to see what Lisa Ko writes next: with such a brilliantly received debut novel, it’ll be hard to top the success she’s achieved with The Leavers.


If you’re interested in learning more about The Leavers, check it out on Goodreads. If you decide to buy a copy, please consider using my Amazon affiliate link: I’ll earn a few pennies from your purchase. Thank you!


Thank you again for visiting my stop on The Leavers blog tour! Are you going to check out Lisa Ko’s book?