By Ekta R. Garg
February 1, 2017
Genre: Women’s fiction
Rated: Bordering on Bypass it / 2.5 stars
An illegal immigrant and a woman wanting a child will cross paths when the immigrant’s son goes into the foster system. Both women pursue the child, and neither will ever be the same when she reaches the end of her journey. Author Shanthi Sekaran explores the world of wanting a child and keeping one in the grossly lopsided novel Lucky Boy.
At the age of 18, Solimar Castro-Valdez only knows two things for sure: her small village in Mexico is running out of options for a viable life and America will change everything beyond her wildest dreams. After all, her cousin, Silvia, made it to America, and everyone knows how well Sylvia’s life turned out. If Soli wants a chance to help her family improve their economic standing, she knows she’ll have to undertake the dangerous journey across the border.
Some people have tried and failed, come back in utter distress or disgrace, but Soli knows she won’t end up like that. Her father has made arrangements with a man who guarantees Soli’s safety—until the journey begins, and he doesn’t anymore. When Soli learns he intends for her to be a drug mule, she runs away and joins another migrating group. Then she meets someone who will change her life forever.
But that isn’t the only change Soli will experience, and she learns that all the stories people told in Mexico about the arduous journey to America are true. Weeks after leaving her hometown, she arrives on Silvia’s doorstep forlorn but not broken. Despite the discovery that she’s pregnant, Soli gets a job as a cleaning lady and nanny to a family in Berkeley, California.
On the other side of the city, Kavya and Rishi are living any young couple’s dream. Kavya gets to exercise her cooking skills as head chef, albeit at a sorority house, and Rishi works at a successful startup. They feel like they should be grateful for what they have, yet they can’t get around the one thing they don’t: a child. Fertility treatments don’t work, so Kavya and Rishi decide to adopt.
Rishi in particular becomes convinced that adopting out of the foster system will ground his place in the world. Kavya, less sure, agrees to look into the process. Through a complicated series of events they meet Soli’s son, now one year old, and Kavya falls in love with the boy immediately. What they don’t realize is that Soli never intended to give him up; he was taken from her, and after losing everything else she will do whatever it takes to get him back.
Author Shanthi Sekaran tackles the foster care system as well as issues of illegal immigration and infertility in a book that could have made a deep impact, and it does to an extent. Soli’s story will draw out readers’ hearts and make them look twice at themselves as well as the immigrants, legal or not, who believe with wholehearted desperation that the United States offers solutions to all of their problems.
Less successful, by a wide margin, is the story of Kavya and Rishi. Kavya comes across as self-absorbed and someone with too great a sense of entitlement. Rishi handles everything tentatively to the point that even when he and Kavya welcome Soli’s son into their home, readers will begin to wonder whether he really wanted to be a father in the first place. Kavya starts the process with her yearnings to be a mother; Rishi becomes the one to champion the foster care system. Neither of them seem to understand the far-reaching consequences of what they’re doing.
Had Sekaran chosen to cut out Rishi and Kavya altogether and simply followed Soli’s story, the impact would have been much deeper. As it is, the book during Soli’s portions will astound readers with its initial force and then leave them with too many unanswered story questions after they’ve absorbed the impact. Those unanswered questions come mostly from Kavya and Rishi’s involvement in the plot.
Due to the title, readers will assume Soli’s son has a much larger role to play but ultimately he becomes a placeholder for an immigrant’s dream. While the book is worth reading for Soli’s perspective, readers may not be able to fully appreciate the story Sekaran is attempting because of her other protagonists. For this reason, Lucky Boy is Bordering on Bypass it.