The latest Advanced Reader Copy (ARC) I have read is Kathryn Ma’s The Year She Left Us. I received the novel through a Goodreads.com giveaway, and here is the extended review.
The Year She Left Us
By Kathryn Ma
Published Harper-Collins Publishers, 2014
Kathryn Ma’s The Year She Left Us is a debut novel, but it isn’t her first published work, which is a short story collection called All That Work and Still No Boys.
Basically, this novel tells the inter-related stories of four Chinese-American women by the name of Kong. Ari (her full name is Ariadne Bettina Yun-Li Rose Kong) is the adopted daughter of Charlie, who is a lawyer in San Francisco. Lesley, a judge and lawyer in her own right, is Charlie’s sister and Ari’s aunt. Gran, the mother of Les and Charlie, is an immigrant who came from China to escape Mao’s Cultural Revolution. Each of these characters is very different and all four points-of-view are expressed throughout the story.
When Ari returns from a trip back to China to visit her “home” orphanage, she spirals out of control into a self-destructive path. The trip makes her question everything about her life, and she abandons plans for a college education and goes on a journey of self-discovery that includes a trip to Alaska.
Charlie only wants to protect her child. She wants to keep Ari safe and doesn’t understand what (is going on) or why Ari has begun to distance herself from her family. Neither giving Ari freedom nor protecting her has stemmed the distance between them. In fact, as the story continues, the gulf between them widens as Ari investigates her past.
Lesley has her own issues as she is often the go-between her mother and Charlie, Charlie and Ari, and Ari and Gran. Yet, she has a life outside the family that includes her career as a judge and a relationship that remains a secret from her family. She desires to become a federal court judge, but dealing with a prominent murder case may affect that as well as her relationship with Charlie.
Gran only wants upward mobility for her daughters and granddaughter and tries to exert control over them. Having lived through so much of the upheaval in China, she recognizes the advantages her new country has. Yet, she still longs for her home in China.
All these intertwining stories show both the strength and fragility of the bonds of this family. Yet, each one has to come to recognize her own accomplishments and failures, and each has to take her own journey of discovery to find her own place in the world. In a sense, for all of them, they all experience a year when letting go and leaving one of the others is the “year she left us” in this story of Chinese-American immigrant life.