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FAW Book Reviews

Lucky Boy
By Shanti Sekaran

Paperback, 496 pages, G.P. Putnam's Sons; Reprint edition (September 5, 2017)

Reviewed by Shirley Baugher
March, 2017

There could not be a more timely novel than Shanti Sekaran's "Lucky Boy." The author shows us the human consequences of the deportation of illegal immigrants-even those who have come to this country with hopes of a better life for themselves and their children and who have worked hard to make that possible. Solimar Castro Valdez (Soli) is such a person. Her father sold everything he had to get her out of the dying Mexican village in which she lived and which offered her no future. He wanted to get her to California and the promise of a good life. The unscrupulous relative to whom he gave his money abandons Soli and she falls in with a band of thugs who beat and rape her. Among them, however, is a gentle soul who becomes the love of her life. He impregnates her but is separated from her before they reach their destination. Soli manages to make her way to California and to the apartment of another undocumented woman, her cousin Silvia. At first, Soli is lucky. She gets a job with a kind-hearted, successful couple, the Cassidys, who take her in and care for her even after the birth of her child, Ignacio-or "Nacho" as she calls him-the "lucky boy" of the story.

While this is Soli's story, it is also the story of Kavya and Rishi Reddy, an Indian couple who live in the so called "Gourmet Ghetto" of Berkeley, California. Kavya is head chef at a Berkley sorority house, and Rishi is a brilliant engineer at a successful technology firm run by a fellow Indian engineer. Kavya and Rishi want very much to have a child but have been unable to make that happen. Inevitably, the Reddy's story and Soli's collide with life-changing results.

Through no fault of her own, Soli is taken into custody by immigration officials. When it is learned that she is illegal and has no papers, she is separated from Ignacio and placed into a detention center for deportation back to Mexico. The fact that she was gainfully employed and making a good home for herself and her child does not matter to the system. All that does matter is that she is illegal and therefore, must go.

When they are separated, Ignacio is placed in a care center with other abandoned children. It is assumed he will be placed with foster parents who might eventually adopt him. He ends up at the home of Kavya and Rishi who, despite recognizing that the child's mother is alive and might try to get him back, come to love the boy deeply and want to adopt him. They call him "Iggy." They gain his trust and his affection. They tell him stories. They take him on expeditions. They shower him with all the material things a little boy could want. Above all, they make him feel safe and wanted. All the while, in the background, there is Soli who lives only to get back her heart-her son.

Soli is treated badly in the detention center, where conditions are deplorable, and her pleas to be reunited with Nacho are ignored. She spends her days (and nights) plotting to escape and eventually manages to do so. She even learns the name of the couple who have taken "Nacho" in and are raising him as their own. The rest of the story revolves around Soli's determination to get Nacho back and the Reddy's determination to keep him. You will find yourself taking sides as to which side should gain custody of the "lucky boy" who is so loved by the opposing forces. Spoiler alert, I did; and I chose the wrong side.

Despite the headlines about the "need for" deportation of illegals, "Lucky Boy" puts a human face-or faces-on how the process actually affects the unfortunate ones who fall victim to the system. The book takes you on an emotional journey that will leave you shaken and saddened. There are no bad guys in this story and no obvious hero. You will root for one side, then the other. Even after you have made your choice, you will, like Tevye, say, "on the other hand," even though there is no other hand.