Kavya and Rishi Reddy are educated adults in their thirties living in Berkeley, California. Their parents, immigrants from India, have done well for themselves and now just want grandchildren. Except after about a year of trying, nothing is happening. Desperate, the Reddy couple take action, well aware that time is slipping away. Will the Reddy’s — or their parents — accept an adopted child into the family if it comes to that?
Soli is a nineteen-year-old girl from a poor village in Mexico. Her father saves to send her to the U.S. with a coyote, meaning she will arrive undocumented. Fortunately, Soli’s cousin made it to the north years ago and is established in California. Soli luckily survives the journey, but arrives on her cousin’s door step pregnant. She can’t get an abortion; the clinic seems too fancy for her. And so her son, Ignacio arrives.
Because author Shanthi Sekaran sets up her novel Lucky Boy with a lack and a sufficiency, you get where it’s going. Except Soli takes to motherhood and loves her son, with no intention of letting him go. It’s only when she’s stopped by police and put into the immigration detention system that she loses Ignacio to social services, where he enters the foster care system.
Kavya has no intention of being a foster parent; she gets what she wants. But based on my reading of Motherhood So White, a memoir by Nefertiti Austin, I gather than in California all potential adopting parents must start with fostering first, and go through training, too. But Kavya’s attitude — to want and receive — doesn’t fit the system in place, meaning she’s an exhausting character. She tells her husband her plans for their impending parenthood more than communicating with him, and there’s a particularly jarring scene when the Reddy’s go to visit a girl they are meant to foster and Kavya picks out Ignacio instead, as if she’s window shopping for children.
When the story gets out that Soli is detained, lost, and abused in the immigration detention system, local Berkeley students hold a protest against the Reddy’s, chanting that a MasterCard doesn’t make them better parents than Soli, just lacking a Green Card. But that’s just what Kavya argues; she and Rishi can buy Ignacio things, send him to private school, provide him with a home in the U.S. because he was born in the country. They wonder what Soli can provide. Being deported to a country they can’t envision as habitable? Living in a run-down, poverty-stricken village with no access to formal education?
Soli’s cousin, a person who hasn’t drank the Kool-aid of the American dream and instead capitalizes on it, astutely points out that Americans don’t really have more than Mexicans:
“Nobody here has any goddamn money,” Silvia told [Soli]. “Even the people who have money don’t have money.” . . .
“But they have HOMES. That’s something.”
“Mortgages,” Silvia said. “They don’t have homes. They have mortgages.”
And here is where Sekaram’s Lucky Boy makes for good conversation. Is there a standard of parenting in the United States, and does that standard apply across borders and cultures? Is the bar set by people with money (or access to loans), who can’t fathom living without perfectly clean air and bike paths in the city? While the Reddy’s claims appear sound, they’re also dismissing Soli’s life experiences and love for her son. I wasn’t sure how the novel would end, but was satisfied with how it did.
Tangled up in all of that is the fact that no white families are at the center of the story, nor is the author white. I thought Sekaran’s choice made the conversation for readers more difficult in a good way — we’ve read many novels about immigration and white communities’ feelings about it.
The only fault I could find was the side characters Preeti (Kavya’s childhood “friend”) and Vikram (Rishi’s boss who is married to Preeti). This other Indian couple’s lives felt extraneous to the plot, taking up space in a novel that didn’t need more social issues, like Indian parents comparing their children and tech giants who take credit for their employee’s work. Kavya is highly unlikable, which may turn some readers off, but it’s more that her genuine feelings and self-centered worldview clash with reality — that her love for Ignacio may not matter compared to Soli’s.