Excerpt from The Leavers by Lisa Ko, plus links to reviews, author biography & more

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The Leavers

by Lisa Ko

The Leavers by Lisa Ko X
The Leavers by Lisa Ko
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  • First Published:
    May 2017, 352 pages
    Paperback:
    Apr 2018, 368 pages

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Book Reviewed by:
Janet Garber
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A bus lumbered past, spraying slush. The wa l k sign flashed on. "You know what I did today?" his mother said. "One lady, she had a callus the size of your nose on her heel. I had to scrape all that dead skin off. It took forever. And her tip was shit. You'll never do that, if you're careful."

He dreaded this familiar refrain. His mother could curse, but the one time he'd let motherfucker bounce out in front of her, loving the way the syllables got meatbally in his mouth, she had slapped his arm and said he was better than that. Now he silently said the word to himself as he walked, one syllable per footstep.

"Did you think that when I was growing up, a small girl your age, I thought: hey, one day, I'm going to come all the way to New York so I can pick gao gao out of a stranger's toe? That was not my plan."

Always be prepared, she liked to say. Never rely on anyone else to give you things you could get yourself. She despised laziness, softness, people who were weak. She had few friends, but was true to the ones she had. She could hold a fierce grudge, would walk an extra three blocks to another grocery store because, two years ago, a cashier at the one around the corner had smirked at her lousy English. It was lousy, Deming agreed.



"Take Leon, for instance. He look okay to you?"

"Leon's always okay."

"His back's screwed up. His shoulders are busted. Men don't work in nail salons. You don't finish school, you end up cutting meat like Leon, arthritis by the time you're thirty- five."

It seemed disloyal to talk like this about Yi Ba Leon, who was so strong he'd do one- arm push- ups for Deming and Michael and their friends, let them punch him in the gut for kicks, though Deming stopped short of punching as hard as he could. "Do it again," Leon would say. "You call that a punch? That's a handshake. Even if Leon wasn't his real father — on this topic, his mother was so tightlipped that all he knew about the man was that he'd never been around — he made Deming proud. If he could grow up to be like any man, he wanted to be like Leon, or the guy who played the saxophone in the subway station, surrounded by people as his fingers danced and his chest heaved and the tunnel filled with flashes of purples and oranges. Oh, to be loved like that!

Fordham Road was unusually quiet in the snow. Ice covered the sidewalk in front of an abandoned building, a reddish piece of gum clinging to it like a lonely pepperoni atop a frozen pizza. "This winter is never- ending," Deming's mother said, and they gripped each other's arms for balance as they made their way across the sidewalk. "Don't you want to get out of here, go somewhere warm?"

"It's warm at home." In their apartment, if they could just get there, the heat was blasting. Some days they even wore T- shirts inside.

His mother scowled. "I was the first girl in my village to go to the provincial capital. I made it all the way to New York. I was supposed to travel the world."

"But then."

"But then I had you. Then I met Leon. You're my home now." They started up the hill on University Avenue. "We're moving."

He stopped in a slush puddle. "What? Where?"

"Florida. I got a new job at a restaurant. It's near this Disney World. I'll take you there." She grinned at him like she was expecting a grin back.

"Is Yi Ba Leon coming?"

She pulled him away from the puddle. "Of course."

"What about Michael and Vivian?"

"They'll join us later."

"When?"

"The job starts soon. In a week or two."

"A week? I have school."

"Since when do you love school so much?"

"But I have friends." Travis Bhopa had been calling Michael and Deming cockroaches for months, and the impulse to stick a foot out as he lumbered down the aisle was brilliant, spontaneous, the look on Travis's face one of disbelief, the sound of Travis's body going down an oozy plop. Michael and their friends had high- fived him. Badass, Deming! Detention had been worth it. They stood in front of the bodega. "You're going to go to a good school. The new job is going to pay good money. We'll live in a quiet town."

Excerpted from The Leavers by Lisa Ko. Copyright © 2017 by Lisa Ko. Excerpted by permission of Algonquin Books. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

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