theleaversChapel Hill: Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill, 2017 (335 pages)

Deming Guo lives in a tiny apartment in the Bronx with his mom Polly (Peilin), her boyfriend Leon, Leon’s sister Vivian and Vivian’s son Michael. Polly, Leon and Vivian are immigrants from Fuzhou, China. One day, Polly disappears. Deming thinks that she has moved to Florida like she wanted to, but Leon and Vivian give Deming no leads. After a few weeks, Leon moves back to China, and Deming is left with Vivian, who can barely care for herself and Michael, let alone Deming. So Deming is handed over to CPS, and is fostered by the Wilkinsons, Kay and Peter, who are interested in a foster-to-adopt situation. Living in Ridgeborough with the Wilkinsons is like living on another planet. Deming, now known as Daniel, is always waiting for the mother ship to take him back to his home planet. He makes a few friends: there’s Roland Fuentes, with whom Daniel shares a love of music; there’s Angel, another Chinese adoptee, who lives in Manhattan with Kay and Peter’s friends…. Schoolmates seem more like acquaintances than friends… So ten years pass. Daniel gets an email from Michael saying that he has information about Polly. Will Daniel respond? Life has taken a difficult turn for Daniel. He has been dropped from SUNY Potsdam, where he was slowly falling into bad habits–not going to class, and online gambling. Not only has he lost his spot at Potsdam, he’s also lost Angel, who lent him the money she was supposed to use to go to Nepal to give to Daniel, who gambles it all away. He’s moved in with Roland Fuentes, and they are in another band together. Maybe this time they’ll get a break. But Peter and Kay want Daniel to finish college, this time closer to home at Carlough, where they are both professors. Daniel is noncommital. He’d rather live in NYC; however, after Daniel screws up the latest gig with Roland, he decides to contact Michael. From Michael, Daniel learns that Vivian has word of his mom through Leon. Daniel calls Leon, and the pieces start falling into place about Polly. She is in China, and has been for years. She had been deported. Daniel finally gets in contact with her, but she seems to have moved on. She’s willing to talk, but is keeping the secret of having a grown son from her husband, Yong. Daniel is angry, hurt, and frustrated by the brief glimpses into Polly’s life. She reveals that she tried to find Daniel, but it’s hard to believe someone who barely has time to talk. After another failed attempt to please Kay and Peter (summer classes at Carlough with okay grades followed by a gambling binge), the Wilkinsons kick Daniel out. He takes his winnings and buys a plane ticket to Fuzhou, where he meets up with Leon, who helps him locate Polly. Finally, Daniel (Deming) is reunited with his mom. And she tells him her story: She was taken from her work by ICE, and was unable to contact him for 14 months because she was taken to an illegal immigrant holding station in Texas called Ardsleyville. They took her phone, which had all of her numbers programmed into it, and she couldn’t remember Leon’s cell number. Her single call was wasted on wrong numbers. After fourteen months of deprivation and despair, Polly was deported to China. In that time, Leon had moved, and Vivian had given up Deming to CPS. Polly tried and tried to find Deming, but when she finally learned that Deming had been adopted, she gave up. There was no way to contact him, to find him, and she had no way to save up money for another trip to the U.S., nor could she even go back, thanks to the deportation. So she made a new life for herself, even though her nights were haunted by dreams of Ardsleyville, and her thoughts always traveled back to Deming. She got a job as an English teacher, and married Yong, a manufacturing executive. It’s hard for Deming to take in–this news that his mother hadn’t voluntarily abandoned him, that she had searched for him. All the people he loved as a child, those he thought had left him, have found him again. Now Deming needs to find himself. He stays in Fuzhou and teaches English for a while, then heads back to the states to reconnect with Peter and Kay, and to work on his own music. He moves in with Michael, to a place in Harlem. He stays in touch with his mom via video chat. Polly and Deming know that it’s okay to leave each other now, because they will never lose each other again.

Finished 8/17

Tags: abandonment, addiction, deportation, family, friendship, immigration, love, self-discovery