The Year She Left Us

One rite of passage many American teenagers hold in common is striking out on their own in the transition to adulthood. Angst, festering from those final years under their parents' roofs, jettisons them into a realm of self-discovery and self-reliance requiring hearty determination to embody their own distinct identities. For Ari, a Chinese orphan adopted in infancy by Charlie Kong--a Chinese-American woman in San Francisco--a frustrating lack of information about her birth family compounds her already dubious sense of belonging and she tumbles into orbit far beyond the reach of family and friends.

Kathryn Ma's incandescent debut novel, The Year She Left Us, is a stirring excavation of adolescent, familial and racial identity. Ari's depression looms over her every move, threatening to fracture her relationships and her body; sometimes it succeeds, brutally. But those around her are not as stable as Ari enviously suspects. Ma mediates the tensions facing three generations of Kong women as judiciously as an attorney with her clients; Gran Kong refuses to acknowledge her aging disposition; and sisters Charlie and Lesley find their sibling rivalry bleeds into their courtroom professions. Tempers blossom fresh when Ari, obsessed with finding her father, disappears.

The Year She Left Us is difficult and lovely, wild and endearing. Families both chosen and biological can often feel that way, too, but their true mark is discovered in challenging moments, the darkest years, when their most tender members are put to the knife. --Dave Wheeler, publishing assistant, Shelf Awareness

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