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“There was a time I would have called Lisa Ko’s novel beautifully written, ambitious, and moving, and all of that is true, but it’s more than that now: if you want to understand a forgotten and essential part of the world we live in, The Leavers is required reading.” —Ann Patchett,  author of Commonwealth

Lisa Ko’s powerful debut, The Leavers, is the winner of the 2016 PEN/Bellwether Prize for Fiction, awarded by Barbara Kingsolver for a novel that addresses issues of social justice.

One morning, Deming Guo’s mother, Polly, an undocumented Chinese immigrant, goes to her job at a nail salon—and never comes home. No one can find any trace of her.

With his mother gone, eleven-year-old Deming is left mystified and bereft. Eventually adopted by a pair of well-meaning white professors, Deming is moved from the Bronx to a small town upstate and renamed Daniel Wilkinson. But far from all he’s ever known, Daniel struggles to reconcile his adoptive parents’ desire that he assimilate with his memories of his mother and the community he left behind.

Told from the perspective of both Daniel—as he grows into a directionless young man—and Polly, Ko’s novel gives us one of fiction’s most singular mothers. Loving and selfish, determined and frightened, Polly is forced to make one heartwrenching choice after another.

Set in New York and China, The Leavers is a vivid examination of borders and belonging. It’s a moving story of how a boy comes into his own when everything he loves is taken away, and how a mother learns to live with the mistakes of the past.

Lisa Ko’s fiction has appeared in Best American Short Stories 2016, Apogee Journal, Narrative, Copper Nickel, the Asian Pacific American Journal, and elsewhere. She has been awarded fellowships and residencies from the New York Foundation for the Arts, the MacDowell Colony, the Lower Manhattan Cultural Council, Writers OMI at Ledig House, the Jerome Foundation, and Blue Mountain Center, among others. She was born in New York City, where she now lives. Visit her at lisa-ko.com.

Praise

"There was a time I would have called Lisa Ko’s novel beautifully written, ambitious and moving, and all of that is true, but it’s more than that now: if you want to understand a forgotten and essential part of the world we live in, The Leavers is required reading.” —Ann Patchett

"Courageous, sensitive, and perfectly of this moment: The Leavers is everything I could hope for in a winner of the Bellwether Prize." —Barbara Kingsolver

“In The Leavers, Lisa Ko has created one of the most courageous mother character's in recent memory. Polly is brash, brave and heartbreaking and her ferocity is marvelous to behold. The Leavers is about the bonds between parents and children and the many pulls of home. It was a book I did not want to end.” —Kaitlyn Greenidge, author of We Love You, Charlie Freeman

“One of 2017's most anticipated fiction debuts… The winner of last year's PEN/Bellwether Prize, which recognizes fiction that explores issues of social justice, The Leavers feels as relevant as ever as the future of immigrants in America hangs in the balance.” —Time.com

Meet the Author

Lisa Ko is the author of The Leavers, a novel which won the 2016 PEN/Bellwether Prize for Socially Engaged Fiction and will be published by Algonquin Books in 2017. Her short fiction has appeared in Best American Short Stories 2016, Apogee Journal, Narrative, Copper Nickel, Storychord, One Teen Story, the Asian Pacific American Journal, Brooklyn Review, and elsewhere. Her non-fiction has appeared in The Los Angeles Review of Books, Hyphen, and Guernica.

Lisa was a 2015-16 Lower Manhattan Cultural Council Workspace artist in residence and received a 2002 New York Foundation for the Arts Artists’ Fellowship in fiction. She has been awarded fellowships and residencies from the MacDowell Colony, the Helene Wurlitzer Foundation, Writers OMI at Ledig House, the Jerome Foundation, Blue Mountain Center, the Van Lier Foundation, Hawthornden Castle, the I-Park Foundation, the Anderson Center, the Constance Saltonstall Foundation, and the Kimmel Harding Nelson Center.

A founding co-editor of Hyphen and a fiction editor at Drunken Boat, she has a BA from Wesleyan University, a MSLIS from San Jose State University, and a MFA from the City College of New York. She has worked in non-profit media; education; independent film; web, book and magazine publishing; and museum archives. The only child of Chinese immigrants from the Philippines, she was born in Queens, raised in Jersey, and lives in Brooklyn. She is a triple Scorpio. Visit her at lisa-ko.com.