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2018 fiction finalist

Shanthi Sekaran | Lucky Boy

Shanthi SekaranAbout the author
Shanthi Sekaran teaches creative writing and is a member of the Portuguese Artists’ Colony and the San Francisco Writers’ Grotto. Her work has appeared in The New York Times, Best New American Voices and Canteen, and online at Zyzzyva and Mutha Magazine. A California native, she lives in Berkeley with her husband and two children.

About the book
Is love alone enough to raise a child or does someone need the means to give that child a better life? Lucky Boy is a moving story about two unforgettable women in Northern California: an undocumented Mexican woman and an Indian-American wife. Both are bound together by their love for the same boy.

Solimar Castro Valdez has always been a dreamer, wishing for a better life away from her small town of Popocalco. Drunk on optimism and full of faith, Soli embarks on a perilous journey across the Mexican border. 

Weeks later she arrives on her cousin’s doorstep in Berkeley, California, dazed by first love found then lost – pregnant, undocumented, and unmoored. When her beloved son Ignacio finally arrives, Soli discovers that motherhood can be her identity in a world where she is otherwise invisible. 

Despite enormous pressure from her parents to conform to their idea of the proper Indian-American lifestyle, Kavya Reddy has created a life she adores. Her marriage to her husband, Rishi, is mostly happy and she loves her job as a chef, but at thirty-five her life starts to seem empty, a gaping hole at its center that can only be filled by a child. When she can’t get pregnant, this desperate desire strains her marriage and tests her sanity, setting her on a path leading to Soli’s infant son Ignacio, sent into foster care when Soli is placed in immigrant detention. As Kayva learns to be a mother to this boy she builds her love on a fault line, her heart wrapped around someone else’s child.

The novel beautifully weaves together the themes of motherhood, immigration, infertility, adoption and minority life in America.  It’s also a story about California and a larger portrait of what the state looks like now – who does the work and who has the power. A native of California, Shanthi was inspired by her own upbringing as a child of immigrants, by the news stories she was hearing about undocumented mothers losing their children when they were put into detention centers, and by living in Berkeley, a place that for all of its progressiveness is also incredibly privileged. She applied these real life inspirations to fiction and the result is revelatory.

At once heartbreaking and uplifting, Lucky Boy will leave readers thinking, feeling and debating long after turning the last page.

Critics / Reviews
"With a generous understanding of how modern issues - from illegal immigration to income inequality - play out in people's lives, Sekaran has written a page-turner that's touching and all too real." — People 

“In pitting two very different kinds of immigrants against each other — one comfortably assimilated, the other helpless in every sense — Sekaran offers a brilliantly agonizing setup … exceptional." — The New York Times

"With wit, empathy and a page-turning plot, the novel stirs ethical questions in the reader that the author rightly refuses to answer … a tender, artful story of the bravery of loving in the face of certain grief." — San Francisco Chronicle

"Topical and timely, but thankfully neither pedantic nor preachy, Sekaran's book invites the reader to engage empathetically with thorny geopolitical issues that feel organic and fully inhabited by her finely rendered characters ... a gripping story.” — Chicago Tribune

"Forces the reader to wrestle with questions about family, nationality and belonging … Lucky Boy is an ambitious novel that braids together two complex stories about family and parenting and also takes on the issues of immigration, class privilege and mass incarceration." — Dallas Morning News

"Sekaran's prose is swift and engaging, her storytelling confident.... Lucky Boy pulses with vitality, pumped with the life breath of human sin and love." — USA Today