I always struggle to write reviews for books that make a big impression on me. I never feel like I can accurately articulate my feelings, nor do the book justice. Lucky Boy was one of these books and one of my top reads of 2017…
Author: Shanthi Sekaran
Version: Paperback (496 pages)
Publisher: G.P. Putnam’s Sons (September 5, 2017)
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.
It is no secret that my favorite types of books are the ones that have some substance to them. Books that tackle emotional topics, “hot button issues,” controversial subjects, etc. are the ones that seem to stick with me the longest. Generally these types of books are not the easiest to read, but they are very important books to read. Lucky Boy is one of these types of books. In Lucky Boy, Sekaran explores themes like illegal immigration, the immigration experience, infertility, parenthood, privileged vs. unprivileged immigration, and the foster care/adoption process.
Lucky Boy is the story of two women: Solimar & Kavya, and the love they share for one very lucky little boy, Ignacio. Solimar & Kavya could not have more different backgrounds. Solimar is an illegal Mexican immigrant living in the U.S. trying to make a better life for herself and son. Kavya is the daughter of legal immigrants who struggles with infertility and an overbearing mother. Both of these character’s stories collide when Soli is detained, and Kavya become Ignacio’s foster mother. Because we get to see this story unfold through both women’s perspectives, the author really places the reader into the dilemma. You may start to ask yourself what you would do in Soli and Kavya’s positions. By reading the synopsis, you may think you know which side of the dilemma you fall on, but Sekaran really blurs the lines so that you may find yourself conflicted for the duration of the book. This is something I really appreciate from authors, that ability to make us question things & explore those grey areas. Actually, if you are a fan of Jodi Picoult, I would recommend this book to you, since this is something she does so well in her books.
One of the best aspects of Lucky Boy is the fact that the representation felt on point. It was clear the author conducted extensive research into all topics addressed in this book: legal immigrants, illegal immigrants, infertility, the fostering & adoption process, etc. I read an article where Amend shared that she spent many hours interviewing, reviewing documents, brushing up on laws & policies, and reading testimonies in each area. Being the daughter of Indian immigrants, Amend even had a personal connection to immigration. Her knowledge in each of these areas really shines through in the book. Lucky Boy, and its characters, felt very authentic.
A commonality among some of my favorite books is when they give me a new perspective on topics that you had previously not given much thought to, and Lucky Boy gave me plenty food for thought. This book really opened my eyes to the plight of illegal immigrants to our country. Many illegal immigrants are families, mothers with children, and young people who are searching for a better life than is offered in their home country. This book also brings about the harsh realities of illegal immigrants that are detained. I had never given much thought to detained immigrants before reading this book. Many that are detained are imprisoned and treated as criminals, even if their only crime is crossing into American soil. They do not even have access to programs or services that the convicted criminals have access to. Soli’s treatment during her detainment was absolutely appalling, especially since she committed no crime other than being an illegal immigrant. This book will really makes you think about how flawed our system is on so many different levels. What a great book to teach empathy towards illegal immigrants & their treatment here in the U.S. Another topic I had never given much thought to was privileged vs. unprivileged immigration: the idea that immigrants from certain parts of the world are more “desirable” than others. Lucky Boy would make for an excellent book club selection. A huge moral dilemma with lots of grey areas. There is so much potential for so many different discussions.
I must warn you that this book is very emotionally charged, and will especially tug at the heartstrings of those of you who are parents. As a mother myself, reading this book was devastating as I felt for both Soli & Kavya for different reasons. I just want to make it clear that the overall tone of Lucky Boy is a somber one, so do not go into this expecting a light-hearted read. This isn’t exactly a book you enjoy reading, it is one of those books that makes you think long and hard. If you are quick to tears, keep the tissue box handy.
*Content/Trigger Warnings: Rape*
*Big thanks to G.P. Putnam’s Sons for providing me with a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.
Shanthi Sekaran teaches creative writing at California College of the Arts, and is a member of the Portuguese Artists Colony and the San Francisco Writers’ Grotto. Her work has appeared in Best New American Voices and Canteen, and online at Zyzzyva and Mutha Magazine. Her first novel, The Prayer Room, was published by MacAdam Cage. A California native, she lives in Berkeley with her husband and two children.