The Year She Left Us
by Kathryn Ma
$10.99 Kindle version
This novel is centered around a young girl named Ari, adopted from China by a single Chinese-American woman, Charlie. Even though Ari is at the heart of the story, it doesn't take long to realize that all three generations of the Kong women, including Aunt Les and Ari's grandmother, are doing some serious soul-searching. Ari is struggling with abandonment issues and longing for a father figure, Charlie is struggling with being a single mother, Les is trying to balance a career and love life, and the grandmother has been keeping a dark secret for years.
I enjoyed reading the story, but it was almost like watching a car accident happen in slow motion. I found all four women to be very self-centered, even though Ari's mother, aunt and grandmother keep emphasizing the importance of family. I never sensed any real happiness within the Kong family and no one gets the happy ending they're longing for. So why read such a depressing story?
It's a gritty eye-opener, displaying the cultural differences, not only between China and the U.S., but also between the Chinese-Americans in Chinatown, the Chinese-Americans trying to be as "American" as possible, the white families that adopted Chinese daughters, and, of course, Ari and her Chinese-American family. Ari's self-destructive path is the prefect tool to highlight all the racial politics, both at home and abroad.
Ma's debut novel is a well-written social commentary that I think will interest readers who enjoy novels with cultural emphasis.