Solimar Castro-Valdez is barely more than a girl when she finally gathers up enough courage (and enough money) to make the crossing from her native Oaxaca province in Mexico to the United States. Her harrowing journey brings her nightmarish fear and danger, but also her first love, a fearless young man, Checo, who protects not only Soli but also their other traveling companions, just as much as he possibly can. Soli loves Checo, even after the two are abruptly separated on the trip, so when Soli arrives in Oakland, California and discovers she’s pregnant, she welcomes this connection to a man she may never see again.
Soli starts to make her way in the US, landing a steady housekeeping job with a sympathetic couple, the Cassidys, and beginning to save money for her future. After her son Ignacio is born, the Cassidys even allow Soli to continue working with her small son in tow. But when a simple mistake initiates a cascading series of events that result in Soli’s arrest and detention for being an undocumented immigrant, she is separated from her son.
"LUCKY BOY effectively puts human faces on an issue that is often discussed solely in broad, general terms."
Enter the Reddys, Kavya and Rishi. They have been trying for years to conceive a child of their own, and despite Rishi’s hesitations, Kavya has convinced her husband to try adoption. When she spots Ignacio at a foster home, she is immediately drawn to the small boy, who soon becomes the center of her life. The Berkeley couple (she’s a chef, he’s an air-quality engineer at a Silicon Valley company) knows as well as anyone that happiness can be ephemeral. They live in one of the most beautiful places in the world, but know that an earthquake could destroy it in an instant. Can they overcome hesitation and love Iggy fully, even when they know they could lose him? And, if Soli is in a position to retrieve her child again, who has the greater claim on this young boy?
Shanthi Sekaran’s novel is divided into two parts: the first is titled “Soli” and the second “Kavya.” The two women’s perspectives, however, alternate throughout the novel; at times, the narrative turns away from one of them for several chapters, but it always returns to both their stories. The result of this technique is that Sekaran effectively builds readers’ sympathy for both women, and she sensitively and compellingly builds each of their cases to be called “Mama” by Ignacio. Soli is robbed of her child by an immigration system that is deeply flawed, even broken. Meanwhile, Kavya is prepared to provide Iggy not only with the relative safety and advantages of an American childhood, but also with genuine love.
The novel’s expansive scope and thoughtful exploration of these issues are deeply engrossing for readers. When, then, a final crisis perpetuates a brisk, even hasty, conclusion, the result can feel a little jarring. This abrupt denouement, as well as the ethically complicated circumstances leading to it, will likely result in some spirited conversations in book groups and elsewhere. LUCKY BOY effectively puts human faces on an issue that is often discussed solely in broad, general terms.
Reviewed by Norah Piehl on January 13, 2017
- Publication Date: January 10, 2017
- Genres: Fiction
- Hardcover: 480 pages
- Publisher: G.P. Putnam's Sons
- ISBN-10: 1101982241
- ISBN-13: 9781101982242