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The Year She Left Us

3.33  ·  Rating details ·  1,261 ratings  ·  194 reviews
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 spira
Hardcover, 336 pages
Published May 13th 2014 by Harper
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Average rating 3.33  · 
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 ·  1,261 ratings  ·  194 reviews

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May 07, 2014 rated it it was ok
This book was all over the place - too much detail about too many people and too many things that had no real relevance to the story (like the details of random law cases a couple of the characters were working on). It was a struggle to get through at times. A tougher editor could have trimmed this quite a bit and provided a sharper focus to the narrative.

The story is about a troubled young woman, Ari, who was adopted in China as an infant by a Chinese-American woman. To say that Ari has abandon
Sheryl Sorrentino
Jun 01, 2014 rated it really liked it
The Year She Left Us tackles an interesting topic: the international adoption of abandoned female infants from China. I knew two sisters who each adopted a baby girl from China, so I was drawn to this theme. It can be an intriguing subject, both from the standpoint of how China’s “one child” rule has created an entire generation of female castoffs, as well as the degree to which their adoptive American parents became committed to creating a community of fellow adoptees for mutual support and cul ...more
Lesa Parnham
May 24, 2014 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: 2014-books
I probably found this book more interesting than most. I am a white mother of a Chinese 11 year old. She has not made a Heritage Trip, although offered, will firmly tell you that she is an American and is sadly disinterested in any parts of her culture that we try to instill in her. Although Ari's position is quiet different, the book gave me glimpses of different reactions to adoption. It in turn, broke my heart, made me angry, and made me feel proud that there is not one bone of my daughter's ...more
Sep 24, 2014 rated it it was amazing
Ari, whose full is Ariadne Bettina Yun-li Rose Kong, was adopted by a Chinese-American lawyer whose name is Charlie. She is a single woman whose sister Les is also single and a prominent judge in San Francisco where they all live. Ari’s grandmother, the most colorful character in the book is often an embarrassment to her politically correct daughters. Gran left China under Mao, studied at Bryn Mawr, where she wants her granddaughter to study, and ran a successful restaurant business.

Ari was left
Jul 31, 2014 rated it liked it
As an adoptive mom who has gone with a daughter on a heritage tour - to Korea, not to China, I was drawn to this novel. The bleak picture Ma paints of the difficulties Ari faces as a "Whackadoodle," a member of a group of Chinese adoptees whose parents struggle valiantly to keep them in touch with their Chinese past and whose visit to her home orphanage devastated her, made me grateful for the normalcy of my daughter's involvement with Girl Scouts, music lessons, church groups, and good friends, ...more
Kathryn in FL
Feb 27, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Kathryn Ma delivers an insightful tale on the emotions stemming from being adopted. While Chinese culture is a theme, since it is told from the viewpoint of a young Chinese girl adopted as a baby by a successful American born Chinese Woman, she still a struggles with the questions most adoptees have at some point addressed. The voices in this story sounded very authentic to me. While I was not adopted, I have had four very close friends, who were adopted and shared their anguish at still hearing ...more
Jul 25, 2020 rated it it was ok
genuinely impressed with myself for finishing this lackluster novel ...
Aug 14, 2014 rated it liked it
I wanted to like this book. I really did. The writing, after the first chapter, which was disjointed, becomes quite good. The story, about three generations of women from a Chinese American family living in San Francisco, explored themes of family secrets, generational differences, heartache and disappointment, and duty. It was told from the points of view of each of four women, but much of the story circled around Ari, the youngest one. She had been adopted as an infant from China and raised by ...more
Kasa Cotugno
This book began strongly, and with its structure and subject, reminded me of Amy Tan's Joy Luck Club. But whereas that book kept me enthralled from first to last, I found my attention drifting and wishing I could care more about these three women at the core. It is similar to that earlier book in that focus was cast on the relationship between women and their mothers in the Chinese community, and the fact that Ari, the third generation woman, was adopted from an orphanage adds the element of sea ...more
For many parents, and their adopted children, adoption is a wonderful and fulfilling experience. But for others it can also mean unexpected struggles, sometimes heartbreak, and sometimes rejection. This is true whether it involves the numerous children in this country who need homes and families, or whether those seeking a child look beyond the U.S. boundaries. I liked this book, because it showed many of those aspects of adoption, both the joys, and the misunderstandings and pain. I especially ...more
Jun 10, 2014 rated it did not like it
Shelves: not-finishing
Admission: I did not finish this. i didn't even skim to the end. that is how little I care what happens.
I am probably the wrong audience for this book.
All I could think is, Yes, your life is so very hard, wah wah wah.
I am curmudgeonly and intolerant in my old age.
Perhaps there are reasons revealed later in the book as to why Ari acts the way she does, but frankly, I am already so sick of her, a third of the way in, that I don't care anymore.
Jul 05, 2014 rated it it was amazing
This author did something amazing: She stepped back and gave each character a say. She captured the confusion of family conflict, the dynamics of different personalities within a family, and the irrational emotions of a teenager facing something she isn't ready to understand. It's a good representation of real life.
Aug 22, 2015 rated it did not like it
OMG I MADE IT THROUGH. OH MY GOD THAT WAS SO PAINFUL. It took me more to read this single book than the whole saga of The Pirates of Malaysia (11 novels, FYI).

Omg what an accomplishment. I need to reward myself, now.
No. No I didn't like the book. I made it. I made it. Victory is mine.
May 23, 2020 marked it as did-not-finish  ·  review of another edition
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Feb 13, 2019 rated it it was ok
Oh my goodness, there were interesting comments about the adoptee experience, but it was completely overshadowed by the obnoxiousness of Ari as a person.
May 17, 2014 rated it really liked it
Oh the joys of dating a book critic! One of them is free books, and whenever a book seems too much like popular fiction for his taste or whenever he feels guilty for being an ass, voilà! Like magic, a book (or two or more) appears in my bag. This one appeared as a result of the latter. It was one he'd intended to keep, but it came to me instead.

I'm quite glad that it did, though not so glad that the book will join my permanent shelves. Let me be clear: I thoroughly enjoyed this book. The Kong wo
Jun 19, 2016 rated it it was ok
A capably written book but I didn't care about the story. The family secrets seemed banal as well as trivial (despite the stated upheaval and hurt around them). It didn't feel "real" enough.

The snark factor was high in several characters. At first, I disliked Ari (the grand-daughter) whose constant anger and near rage seemed meaningless (even given that she was adopted and grappled with abandonment issues). There was no plausible reason for her emotional state. Then I realized that Betty (the gr
Philip Harris
Sep 21, 2014 rated it really liked it
It's difficult to pick up a book about multiple generations of Chinese women living in the Bay Area without thinking of The Joy Luck Club. Mothers and daughters never seeing eye-to-eye, almost mythic tales of life back in China, the promise of some understanding or reunion. Luckily, Kathryn Ma's debut novel, while including all of these near-tropes, differentiated her tale enough from the now-classic to in fact forget it.

A smooth read, told from multiple perspectives, The Year She Left Us takes
Lys Ng
Nov 07, 2014 rated it really liked it
Shelves: education, discovery
'The Year She Left Us' is a warped novel surrounding the lives of the Kong family, particularly Ari, the adoptive child of an American Asian family. Though, what originally drew me to this novel were the words of journey and discovery (woot area of study) within the blurb and the attractive hard cover, what left me were the concepts of identity and escapism that this book draws upon.

Written in a style similar to 'The Joy Luck Club', with elements quite similar - Americanisation, immigration, mo
Jessica Leight
Aug 14, 2014 rated it it was ok
This book was easy to read - the narrative flows quickly and easily, and there are many trenchant observations, particularly about the platitudes that surround adoption in the United States, that I enjoyed. That being said, the core story seemed oddly diffuse, and it was hard to care very much about any of the characters. The most compelling was the grandmother, who I felt we in some measure were allowed to understand. The core relationship between the adoptive mother and her daughter was totall ...more
Aug 28, 2015 rated it really liked it
As the mother of an internationally adopted son, at times I found this book hard to read - I felt like the author was too quick to buy into the idea that all adopted children forever bear the emotional scars and trauma of the initial loss of their birthparents - but after finishing the book, I think it was worth reading. She does not paint international adoption as black and white - her characters are complicated, her themes complex, and the author pulls no punches. In the end, she has written a ...more
Jan 14, 2015 rated it really liked it
I was drawn to this book as an adoptive mother of two Chinese children and there were many parts I could relate to and understand. I could feel Ari's sense of loss for her birth parents but I thought it was interesting that she also felt the loss of not having an adoptive father or siblings. A great read for anyone who is interested in the complexities of family relationships, the pain we carry and Chinese and adoption culture. Just FYI, there is frequent use of profanity in the professional set ...more
Mary Glass
Apr 12, 2014 rated it it was amazing
I was a lucky winner. Truly lucky! Each character a multi-layered jewel. I was totally besotted with Gran until a certain moment when Les blew me away. All dynamics and interactions as complex as you would hope. People not soon forgotten. You want to know more even as you know every book has to wrap somewhere. The sure sign of a keeper. This copy already promised to an admirer of the cover art. Spread the experience! Thanks!
Jun 08, 2014 rated it it was amazing
I'm giving this a five because it is the first novel of a friend of mine and it is really good! Kathryn has really captured the voices of four Asian American women and more and I learned so much.
Sep 29, 2015 added it
really interesting...
Mackinsey Wood
This book feel between 3 and 3.5 stars for me. I enjoyed how Kathryn Ma tried to cover the stories of three distinct Chinese-American women, each with unique experiences that shape their opinions and worldview. I especially enjoyed reading about Gran, a highly educated woman who saw American educational institutions as a way to escape her trauma of war-torn China, and the painful memories she left behind. Se goes on to raise two daughters who become lawyers. Lesley "Les", the powerful prosecutor ...more
Chris Craddock
Aug 12, 2015 rated it really liked it
Shelves: alexandria
The Year She Left Us
by Kathryn Ma

Review by Christopher R. Craddock (c) 2015

Ambiguous Ambition

Kathryn Ma's debut novel tells the story of Ari, a foundling adopted in China and raised in San Francisco. Her adopted mother is Charlie, a single Chinese-American woman who is a lawyer in the Public Defender's office. Her sister Les is a judge; their mother, called Gran, is a feisty Chinese immigrant who came to America during the war, went to Bryn Mawr; ran a restaurant, and is now retired. The story i
Jun 07, 2017 rated it liked it
As an adoptive mother, there are plenty of ouch moments reading this book, when Charlie, the Chinese American, public defender single mother says something that sounds so off key; selfish, clueless, all the other things that probably any parent can say, but that seems particularly easy for adoptive parents. So part of this book is like watching someone make versions of mistakes I have made myself, it's like picking a scab. On the other hand, some of Ma's description of Ari's quest to figure out ...more
Jenny Yates
Sep 25, 2019 rated it really liked it
This novel is about an adopted daughter’s search for a sense of belonging. It’s subtle yet passionate, as it shifts between the viewpoints of four women in a family.

The novel sometimes seems to lose its way, but this reflects the reality of Ari, the main character, who is clutching for something real. She’s a very vivid character, a young woman adopted from China into a Chinese-American family. She’s uncompromising yet unsure, and the novel describes her journey from California to Alaska and to
Steve Mayer
Jun 29, 2018 rated it really liked it
A terrific novel. Ma does a great job of capturing the differing voices of three generations of Chinese-American women. But all their stories have a common theme: the way abandonment and loss reverberate down a family's history. The prose is sinuous and telling, and quite often beautiful. Bay Area readers, especially those in the legal community, will particularly enjoy some of the scenery, and the finally drawn portrait of the atmosphere around the San Francisco criminal courts.
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Kathryn Ma was born and raised in Pennsylvania, part of a large extended family with roots in China and the U.S. She attended Stanford University and the University of California, Berkeley.

Kathryn is the author of the novel The Year She Left Us, coming from HarperCollins in May 2014. Her short story collection, All That Work and Still No Boys, won the Iowa Short Fiction Award and was named a San F

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