Lucky Boy Book Review
Author: Shanthi Sekaran
Follow Shanthi Sekaran on Facebook @ShanthiSekaranauthor or Twitter @Shanthisekaran
Reviewed by Mary Jeneverre Schultz
Immigration, a topic so close to many in the Asian American populations, touches on so many subjects in this book as illegal immigrants, adoption and foster care comes together through a series of events.
Two families share one bond — the love of a child.
Author Shanthi Sekeran delves deep into the main characters of her book. Solimar Castro Valdez and Kavya Reddy are two mothers, who fight for parental rights. No one in this battle is right or wrong. But after reading the 480-page fictional book, one can’t help but think how common this scenario is occurring daily, weekly or monthly between the U.S. and Mexico.
The author’s inspiration originated from a news story on NPR back in 2011. “I heard a story on NPR about a Guatemalan mother who was fighting to get her child back from the American couple adopting him,” she said. “I sat riveted for the few minutes that the story ran, but of course, it left many questions unanswered.
Almost to the point of obsession, Sekeran could not get the story out of her head. “I wanted to get inside it and know the thoughts and motivations of everyone involved,” she said. “I’m a fiction writer, not an investigative journalist, and the best way I know to get inside a story is to write it.”
Sekeran, who teaches creative writing at the California College of the Arts, build her characters with so many layers. As the second book in Sekeran’s repertoire, Lucky Boy, has built momentum about the current, heated issues of immigration and how it affects everyone involved, from grandparents to employers.
“I’ve always written about immigration of one sort or another,” said Sekeran, who loved Wuthering Heights, also a book about immigration.
As the first generation from India, Sekeran shares her insights about her parents’ struggles in building a life in the United States, successful for all their hard work. Sekeran’s parents achieve success in building a life in the United States. This is the dream most immigrants share in wishing to step on the soils of America, the yellow brick road of success, homeownership, building a business and raising a family to have the desired education as a tool to achieve the “American dream.”
“This isn’t about Indians and Mexicans, but about the documented and undocumented, and the gulf of privilege that lies between them,” said Sekeran, who wrote an opinion column called the Privileged Immigrant in the Sunday Review.
It is the dream of the main character, Solimar or nicknamed as Soli through her family and employer, who hires her initially as a housekeeper, than as a full-time nanny. Through Solimar’s eyes, coming to American turned into a nightmare as she encountered questionable characters in her journey to the United States, ending up in Berkeley.
In Berkeley, the character Kavya lives a blessed life in every manner — career, marriage and well-kept bungalow in northern California. The only dissatisfaction in Kavya’s life is the inability to have a child. After unfruitful attempts, Kavya and her husband, Rishi embark on adoption and the likelihood of foster care. With a convergence of events, Kavya meets Soli’s son, Ignacio.
The novel beautifully weaves together the themes of motherhood, immigration, infertility, adoption and minority life in America. It’s also a story about California and a larger portrait of what the state looks like now – who does the work and who has the power. A native of California, Shanthi was inspired by her own upbringing as a child of immigrants, by the news stories she was hearing about undocumented mothers losing their children when they were put into detention centers, and by living in Berkeley, a place that for all of its progressiveness is also incredibly privileged. She applied these real life inspirations to fiction and the result is revelatory.
Without telling too many details, it is a book that is filled with tense moments of discovery, heart-wrenching events and crying quietly of who will win custody battle. No one is right. No one is wrong.
Mary Jeneverre Schultz emigrated from the Philippines at eight months old, starting her American life in California, then settling in Colorado. Follow her on Instagram @Jeneverre.