“The Leavers” is a novel about racial identity, immigration and lost souls, with a touch of musical spirit.
Peilan (Polly) Guo grew up in a poor village (Minjiang) in a poor province in China. Her father was a fisherman and her mother had died when she was six months old. At a young age, Polly left the village and went to the city of Fuzhou to work in a garment factory. In Fuzhou, Polly worked hard, sent money home, made friends and had a romance. After becoming pregnant, Polly returned to the village and from there emigrated to America.
While in America, she gives birth to a son, Deming, and sends him back to China to be raised by her father. Deming returns to America to be with Polly when he is six years old.
Polly becomes involved with a man from China, Leon, and Deming and Polly move into an apartment with Leon, Leon’s sister, Vivian, and Vivian’s son, Michael. Michael and Deming grow close and treat each other like brothers.
Polly disappears when Deming is eleven years old. Nobody seems to know where she has gone and, at the age of 11, Deming is adopted by two white college professors. They change his name to Daniel Wilkinson and thus begins Deming/Daniel’s perpetual identity crisis. He is introduced to another family who has adopted a Chinese girl, Angel and Deming/Daniel and Angel become friends with a complex relationship.
He loses touch with Vivian, Michael and Leon and struggles through his new life, disappointing everyone along the way. His best friend, Roland Fuentes, starts up a successful band, Psychic Hearts, and Daniel/Deming drops out of college to join in. In the meantime, college professor parents, Kay and Peter are pressing him to continue his college education.
After many years go by, Daniel/Deming receives a text from long lost Michael which results in him reconnecting with his birth mother and learning that she had been deported and begun a new life in China. He visits her in Fuzhou, China and continues to struggle with who he is and how to avoid disappointing everyone in his life.
The one constant for Deming/Daniel is music. All sounds are color to him and that concept and those descriptions are probably the best parts of the book. He describes the sounds of Fuzhou as “deep yellow, blues, and oranges…Pastel sounds drifted from the windows of other apartments.”
The story ends with Deming/Daniel and Polly continuing to move around and everyone continuing to disappoint each other, although Deming/Daniel does reconnect in a meaningful way with Michael. The book is broken down into 4 parts and twenty chapters, with some chapters focused on Polly’s story (told in the first person) and the rest of the chapters telling Daniel’s story. The book had some potential but each theme is handled in a frustratingly superficial way, and the identity issues seemed almost like a toss in. You can reserve this book at the Cuyahoga County Public Library by clicking here.