Lucky Boy: Immigration, adoption, motherhood, and what makes risks worth taking – you know, light reading.
Lucky Boy by Shanthi Sekaran only recently came on my radar. I typically let things languish a tad longer on my TBR, but it’s the February pick for the Mom Advice Book Club, a group that I’m a part of on Facebook. At 472 pages, I also consider this to be a longer book (barely). Since reading longer books is my main reading goal for 2018, I decided I’d dive right in and for once be able to join a book discussion on one of my Facebook groups. Fortunately, my library had both the audio and the ebook available right away. Score! I love it when that happens, because then I can go back and forth between my Kindle and the audio and basically stay fully immersed in the book until it’s devoured. So I got the kids busy doing something, fired up my bluetooth headphones, and started in on a mountain of dishes…
Synopsis from Goodreads
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.
Thoughts and Feelings
Lucky Boy is a book of contrasts – model minority immigrants vs poor Mexicans being smuggled across the border, rich vs poor, biological families vs adoptive families, Berkley mothers vs mothers in Berkley.
Encapsulating all these contrasts are the two main characters, Soli and Kavya, and the narrative alternates between the point of view of those two women (and sometimes Kavya’s husband, Rishi). You know how when you get a story like this, you always like one narrative a tiny bit more than the other? At first I was really only interested in Soli’s story, but what makes Sekaran such a good storyteller is that I very quickly became invested in Kavya’s world. My heart would be breaking for all the hurdles Soli had to face – being smuggled across the border, finding herself pregnant, and needing to find a way to survive in a place where she is not welcome (or even seen). Then I would be tugged over to Kavya’s story of infertility, loss, and the uncertainty of fostering and adoption and my heart would be broken all over again.
Eventually you will get to the point where these two women’s stories converge, and you honestly don’t know what side to be on. From the outside looking in there would probably be a clear right and wrong, but I wasn’t on the outside. I was in it with Kavya, as she risked everything to love Iggy (Ignacio). I was in it with Soli, as Nacho (also Ignacio) was taken from her arms. Both women cared for this lucky boy, Ignacio (Nacho/Iggy) at different times and in different ways, but they were both his mother.
At first I thought I knew how this story would end, and I was annoyed that the book would be so predictable. Shows what I know! It did not end the way I thought it would. Then I was horrified to realize that how I thought the book would end revealed a subconscious bias that I must have been harboring. I don’t want to go into detail because that would spoil everything (and maybe other people will totally see the end coming, I can be really dense sometimes), but I do love it when a book brings things from my own mind and heart to light and forces me to examine them. That’s one of the main things that reading is for, and why I get so scared when people in power don’t read (not that I’m naming any names or anything).
The themes in this book that will jump out at you as being the biggies – immigration, motherhood, infertility, adoption, class – are important and timely. But another strong thread runs through the entire story, and that is risk. What makes risks worth taking? What will push someone over the edge, to act for the person/place/thing they love even though the outcome might be terrible?
Why did people love children who were born to other people? For the same reason they lived in Berkeley, knowing the Big One was coming: because it was a beautiful place to be, and because there was no way to fathom the length or quality of life left to anyone, and because there was no point running from earthquakes into tornadoes, blizzards, terrorist attacks. Because destruction waited around every corner, and turning one corner would only lead to another. So it made sense to stay put, if put was a place like Berkeley, with its throb of lifeblood, of sun and breeze and heart and anger and misplaced enthusiasm. She’d built her love on a fault line, and the first tremors had begun. – Lucky Boy
Other Beautiful (spoiler-free) Quotes from the Book
She felt like she was spying on the universe’s inner mechanics—the crack of a bird’s egg, a vulture feasting on carrion, a squirrel-chase through the branches of an oak. Iggy’s first steps were part of a greater unstoppable force, more animal than human. He took one more courageous step and fell forward at last, smacking his palms to the floor. “Bravo!” Kavya whispered. “Bravo!”
As Iggy learned to walk, then run, then leap, the butter of infancy melted off. He gained the stridency of a child—elbows, shoulder blades, teeth like moonlit pebbles. And words. Apple. Hot. Woof. Papa. Hi. From his mealy mutterings, actual sentences emerged. And from these sentences sprang meaning, intention, and a beastly will.
Stuff This Book Made Me Google
- immigration laws
- The Light Between Oceans
- Another book that I can’t remember the name of, or the author! It’s driving me crazy! I think it took place in Victorian times, in America on the east coast? A young girl gets pregnant by an older man who’s a doctor, she has to give the baby up for adoption, she eventually marries the older man and tries to get her baby back. Someone please help me!!!
Rating: 5/5 stars
This would make an excellent book club choice! There is so much to discuss.