The Leavers by Lisa Ko is about narratives that we construct about our lives with the information that we have, as well as information that we don't have. When an undocumented Chinese American mother, Polly, never comes back from her job at a nail salon, her 11-year-old son Deming experiences all the emotions that a kid would experience under such circumstances: shock, denial, anger, sorrow, shame, and acceptance. Actually, I'm not sure about the acceptance part. When tragedy strikes, maybe we walk around intoxicated with a cocktail of anger and sorrow that we mute by stirring in a dash of a somber rejection of reality. Maybe that's how depression gets born.
Deming, who becomes Daniel Wilkinson when he is adopted by the Wilkinsons, enters his adolescence constantly under the influence of this cocktail and constructs a narrative that his mom doesn't love or care about him. After all, his mother is not a stayer. She's a leaver. She's an abandoner.
Though the Wilkinsons are loving and caring adoptive parents, Deming never feels like he fully belongs with them. And so he too becomes a leaver.
When Deming learns the truth about why Polly never came back that day when he was 11, he realizes that the narrative he constructed was all wrong. Sadly, regardless of his efforts to revise that narrative, he is who he has become within a context that got created when information was lacking.
And isn't that the tragedy of the human condition? That we never fully know everything about anything. And so we fill in the blanks. We exaggerate some. We understate some. We try to be stayers and convince ourselves that we belong. But often times we become leavers, always and already searching to belong.