The Year She Left Us by Kathryn Ma

The Year She Left Us by Kathryn MaThe Year She Left Us by Kathryn Ma
Published by Harper on May 13, 2014
Genres: Cultural Heritage, Fiction
Pages: 336
Source: I received a copy of this book from the publisher for review consideration.
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From the winner of the 2009 Iowa Short Fiction Prize—comes the extraordinary, unexpected debut tale of three generations of Chinese-American women in a San Francisco family who must confront their past and carve out a future.
The Kong women are in crisis. A disastrous trip to visit her "home" orphanage in China has plunged eighteen-year-old Ari into a self-destructive spiral. Her adoptive mother, Charlie, a lawyer with a great heart, is desperate to keep her daughter safe. Meanwhile, Charlie must endure the prickly scrutiny of her beautiful, Bryn Mawr educated mother, Gran—who, as the daughter of a cultured Chinese doctor, came to America to survive Mao's Revolution—and her sister, Les, a brilliant judge with a penchant to rule over everyone's lives.
As they cope with Ari's journey of discovery and its aftermath, the Kong women will come face to face with the truths of their lives—four powerful intertwining stories of accomplishment, tenacity, secrets, loneliness, and love. Beautifully illuminating the bonds of family and blood, The Year She Left Usexplores the promise and pain of adoption, the price of assimilation and achievement, the debt we owe to others, and what we owe ourselves.


The Year She Left Us follows the four women of the Kong family, spanning three generations, each with her own distinct personality and perspective. Kathryn Ma’s debut novel is both an immigrant story and a coming of age story, one that tackles the intricacies of international adoption, family obligation, and abandonment issues from a variety of angles.

These are four very strong, realistic female characters. They are independent and self-reliant, carrying themselves with confidence despite whatever turmoil they are facing within. Sometimes that confident facade invokes admiration; other times, frustration.

Shannon at River City Reading felt the alternating viewpoints of this novel “caused the reading experience to lose fluidity.” I wholeheartedly agree with that. I felt pretty lukewarm about the book for far too long, not connecting in any significant way until I was well more than halfway through. This is a story that unfolds slowly, and although the alternating perspectives caused more interruptions than I would have liked, I was still compelled to stick with it. The tenderness and wisdom of the ending left me feeling that this was time well spent.