Tuesday, September 26, 2017

Lucky Boy

If ever there was a book completely relevant to the times, this would be it.

A gripping tale of adventure and searing reality, Lucky Boy gives voice to two mothers bound together by their love for one lucky boy.

Solimar Castro Valdez is eighteen and drunk on optimism when she embarks on a perilous journey across the US/Mexican border. Weeks later she arrives on her cousin's doorstep in Berkeley, CA, dazed by first love found then lost, and pregnant. This was not the plan. But amid the uncertainty of new motherhood and her American identity, Soli learns that when you have just one precious possession, you guard it with your life. For Soli, motherhood becomes her dwelling and the boy at her breast her hearth. 

Kavya Reddy has always followed her heart, much to her parents' chagrin. A mostly contented chef at a UC Berkeley sorority house, the unexpected desire to have a child descends like a cyclone in Kavya's mid-thirties. When she can't get pregnant, this desire will test her marriage, it will test her sanity, and it will set Kavya and her husband, Rishi, on a collision course with Soli, when she is detained and her infant son comes under Kavya's care. As Kavya learns to be a mother - the singing, story-telling, inventor-of-the-universe kind of mother she fantasized about being - she builds her love on a fault line, her heart wrapped around someone else's child. 

Lucky Boy is an emotional journey that will leave you certain of the redemptive beauty of this world. There are no bad guys in this story, no obvious hero. From rural Oaxaca to Berkeley's Gourmet Ghetto to the dreamscapes of Silicon valley, author Shanthi Sekaran has taken real life and applied it to fiction; the results are moving and revelatory. 

I am really glad I stuck it out with this book because I'll be honest, the first few chapters weren't enough to grab me. Had this been a library read I probably would have dropped it off because I'm kind of a book snob and if I'm not hooked in that first chapter, I don't give it any more time. The exception being this one was a book for review and those I try really hard to finish because I feel like I owe it that much. You want my opinion on a book, I'm going to finish it and weigh in.

With that said, I have to give it a solid 4 stars and I'm telling you right now that if you aren't already sympathetic towards immigrants, even those who come illegally, I really invite you to read this. The great (and maybe really sad thing) is that the author, Shanthi Sekaran, did a lot of research in preparation for this book so she spoke with fostering and adoption agencies, immigration lawyers, people who work in immigration detention centers, and all of that information goes into telling this story. I call it sad because the treatment Soli receives as an illegal immigrant is pretty appalling, and it's just heartbreaking.

We have two mothers, Soli and Kavya, both immigrants but in very different ways. Kavya is desperate for a child, unable to bear children of her own, so ultimately her and her husband turn to adoption. Enter Soli, who is our illegal immigrant who naively travels to the US, and finds herself pregnant. (And let's not sugar coat it, her travels to the US are horrific and she arrives abused, assaulted, and pregnant, this isn't a story of lost love, it's awful.) Soli decides to have her baby, a little boy named Ignacio, but being an illegal immigrant she automatically doesn't have some very basic rights. She loses her child, who ends up with Kavya.

Kavya, desperate to have a child, falls in love with the little boy and there begins this long, exhaustive fight over who should keep the boy.  His biological mother, in a detention center awaiting deportation to Mexico? Or Kavya, an American citizen who just wants to be a mother? There are no winners here. By the time I finished this book my heart hurt. Sure, it's great that the little boy has two options for a home, both with very different lifestyles afford to him, but how do you choose? You see both sides, and as a mother I can't imagine being in either one of their positions, and it's heartbreaking. Soli? When you look at her story alone, start to finish? It's awful. It makes me want to bring these people myself from Mexico because the way they are coming and the treatment they endure? It's unreal. Coming to America is no vacation, it's a terrifying journey these people embark on with such high hopes and they don't even know if they are going to make it. None of us can imagine it.

I so very highly recommend this book. When I hear about the Dreamers in the news, this is the book I'll think of. When I hear about contested adoption placements, this is the book I will think of. It's not going to be one that I forget any time soon.

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