Shanthi Sekaran’s novel Lucky Boy is the bewitching story of two mothers and their love and expectations for themselves and the one boy each calls their own. Young Solimar Castro Valdez braves the border crossing in pursuit of a better life in California. In the turmoil of the experience, she finds love. At the end of it, she’ll be expecting. Kavya Reddy, already married several years to her husband Rishi, is looking for the next step in life, for something that will make herself complete in her otherwise good Berkeley life. And so she decides to have a baby, to start trying to have a baby.
As we jump between the stories of the two women and those who surround them, we become slowly enmeshed in each’s inner turmoil, hopes and dreams, and sense of self. The boy in the title, Ignacio, doesn’t enter the picture as a baby until more than halfway through. Instead, Sekaran focuses on the aspirations of Soli and Kavya — of Soli’s struggles to figure out what life in America looks like as a maid and then nanny to a wealthy Berkeley family, of Kavya’s struggles with fertility and how it affects her marriage. When Soli, who is undocumented, is detained, Ignacio goes into foster care, where he becomes a part of the Reddy family. This second series of dramas occupies the latter half of the story.
Sekaran’s novel is enthralling in how her characters are developed, how she explores what it means to be a mother. We feel the pull of imperfect systems, of immigration, foster care, detention, expectation. There is palpable hope and equally palpable desperation throughout, for Soli, for Kavya, and even for Kavya’s husband Rishi.What does it mean to love a child? What does it mean to lose a child? Vivid and heart rending, Sekaran’s Lucky Boy asks its readers for thoughtfulness and empathy, and explores the uncharted emotional intersection of undocumented immigrants and foster families.