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Praise

“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, Book of the Week

“The plight of undocumented immigrants is nothing new, but in our current political moment the issue has acquired a fresh urgency. . . . 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. . . . [An] exceptional novel.” New York Times

“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

“Topical and timely . . . Sekaran’s book invites the reader to engage empathetically with thorny geopolitical issues that feel organic and fully inhabited by her finely rendered characters.” — Chicago Tribune

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

“Richly emotional . . . The story will linger in your mind long after you’re done with it.” —Good Housekeeping

“Like M.L. Stedman in The Light Between Oceans, Sekaran presents a complex moral dilemma that leaves readers incapable of choosing sides. Lucky Boy is a must read.”BookPage

“[E]ngrossing . . . 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. . . . Sekaran’s characters are drawn with such deep compassion.” —Dallas Morning News

“Remarkably empathetic…Deeply compassionate…Delivers penetrating insights into the intangibles of motherhood and indeed, all humanity.”Booklist (starred review)

“How lucky the reader who gets to devour Shanthi Sekaran’s extraordinary, necessary novel. Lucky Boy is both timely and timeless, depicting the comedy and delights of the world as well as its brutalities and injustices. It’s a story about immigration, privilege, and parenthood, and shows us how we are connected, and how we are, perhaps irreparably, divided. It swept me away and took a little piece of my heart with it. It’s a perfect book.”—Edan Lepucki, New York Times bestselling author of California

“A moving story about a young boy who’s fiercely loved by two mothers.” InStyle, “7 Books You Need to Read in January 2017”

“Heartbreaking and timely, Lucky Boy explores motherhood and lengths we will go to in order to achieve our dreams.“ Real Simple

“This is an emotional story about immigration, motherhood, and love that will leave you spellbound.” —Bustle, “January 2017’s Best Fiction”

Lucky Boy is both a contemporary page-turner (in the model of Chris Bohjalian’s novels) and a model of delicate, artful writing that lets us see an entire world.” —Seattle Times 

“Shanthi Sekaran has written a lush and emotionally wrenching novel, and she has written it in some of the most beautiful prose I’ve read in a long time. This is a fiercely compassionate story about the bonds and the bounds of motherhood and, ultimately, of love.”—Cristina Henriquez, author of The Book of Unknown Americans

“Sekaran is a master of drawing detailed, richly layered characters and relationships; here are the subtly nuanced lines of love and expectation between parents and children; here, too are moments of great depth and insight. A superbly crafted and engrossing novel.” Kirkus Reviews (starred review)

“[A] beautiful sense of storytelling and character. . . . Sekaran succeeds in having readers root for both women and against a system that seems to punish them at the same time. This is a story that feels real and well-drawn, in part because it’s a scenario that has happened in the past — and will happen again.” St. Louis Post Dispatch

“Shanthi Sekaran is a wonderful writer—lyrical and astute, compassionate and fearless—and Lucky Boy is a heartfelt and moving novel that challenges our notions of motherhood and the true meaning of home. A deeply beautiful book.”—Molly Antopol, award-winning author of The UnAmericans 

“[H]umanizes current discussions of immigration, privilege, and what it means to be an American….Sekaran evokes compassion for all the principals involved in the story…highly recommended and would be a strong choice for book clubs.” Library Journal (starred review)

“[D]eeply engrossing . . . will likely result in some spirited conversations in book groups and elsewhere. Lucky Boy effectively puts human faces on an issue that is often discussed solely in broad, general terms.” Bookreporter

“An ambitious story that touches on sweeping themes of fertility, immigration, motherhood, racism and class struggle….There are few easy solutions to life’s toughest problems, but Sekaran’s Lucky Boy goes a long way toward putting a humanizing face on them.”—ShelfAwareness

“In Lucky Boy Shanthi Sekaran has fashioned an ambitious, compassionate and intelligent book with new things to say on the timely subjects of motherhood, fertility, class and identity. This is a deeply human and humane novel by a gifted young writer.” —Tom Barbash, author of Stay Up With Me

“A gripping, obsessive, character-driven narrative of sacrifice and identity—where the lives of two women become forever tangled in the roots of motherhood.” —Simon Van Booy, award-winning author of The Illusion of Separateness

“[A] roller coaster ride full of emotion . . . By far the most amazing character of this novel is Soli, who shows us how to find strength and courage in the face of the biggest and most troubling adversity. Her story is the story of the real-life undocumented workers who risk everything to make a better future for their children. Kudos to Sekaran for tackling this difficult subject.” —New York Journal of Books

“What stands out most about Lucky Boy is how Sekaran captures the complexity and the trials of motherhood, asking the reader to consider everyone’s position so that we would want both Soli and Kavya to be the mother. . . . Like the dedication the protagonists show toward Ignacio, Lucky Boy is obviously a labor of love.” —Zyzzyva

“Ambitious in its scope and triumphant in its bold, insightful observation of the flaws and wonders of human nature, Lucky Boy is a gripping tale about two seemingly distant realities intimately seared together by the inescapable forces of motherhood and survival: that of the celebrated upper-crust Silicon Valley visionary entrepreneurs, and that of the lower-class largely overlooked service workers whose underpaid efforts are the real foundation of the Valley’s success. Shanthi Sekaran has written an elegantly weaved, heart-stopping novel that highlights the helplessness of money over nature and the futility of technology against true love. You’ll have a hard time putting down this book, and when you finish it, you’ll have a hard time not thinking, and aching, about it for a long, long time.”—Antonio Ruiz-Camacho, author of Barefoot Dogs

“Sekaran unflinchingly steers her novel into beautifully and ruthlessly heartbreaking terrain.”—Johns Hopkins Magazine

“[A]ffecting and resonsant . . . the complex questions raised by the novel linger long after the book ends.” —Berkeleyside

“Shanthi Sekaran is a tough and tender writer, unafraid to dig deep into the messy places in our hearts and lives. Lucky Boy is wonderful, a gripping read and an important story.”—Michelle Tea, author of Rent Girl

“There is something so satisfying about a story that ends as it should.”—Laura McBride, author of We Are Called to Rise

“[R]aises larger questions about adoption and the socioeconomics of immigration.” Sacramento Bee 

“Humanizes the issue of illegal immigration…readers will be emotionally invested.”—Publishers Weekly


Praise for The Prayer Room
 
“Sekaran is a master of cadence…there’s jazz on nearly every page.”—The New York Times
 
“Sekaran has a voice all her own, and it is delightful.”—Julia Glass, winner of the National Book Award and author of And the Dark Sacred Night
 
“A perfect debut novel, ambitious and original. With a sweeping array of emotions and uncanny writing skills, Shanthi Sekaran leaps to the forefront of her literary generation.”—Stephen Dixon, critically acclaimed author of Frog and Interstate
 
“Sekaran’s lyrical prose and insightful cultural details make this an absorbing story. Recommended for all fiction collections.”—Library Journal
 
“A probing, often humorous view of a culture clash and its many repercussions.”—Booklist

Author Q&A

A Conversation with Shanthi Sekaran 

What inspired you to write this novel and what is the significance of its title?


In 2011, I heard a story on NPR about a Guatemalan mother who was fighting to get her child back from the American couple adopting him. I sat riveted for the few minutes that the story ran, but of course, it left many questions unanswered. Afterward, I couldn’t get the story out of my head. I wanted to get inside it and know the thoughts and motivations of everyone involved. I’m a fiction writer, not an investigative journalist, and the best way I know to get inside a story is to write it. The book that resulted takes a very different path from the initial news item, but writing it helped explore some of those early questions.

Lucky Boy was perhaps the tenth version of the novel’s title. The initial impulse is to see it as an ironic title, but I don’t see it that way. I see it as a true statement. Ignacio is a lucky boy. He is wanted and loved.

Lucky Boy
focuses on the very different immigrant experiences of two mothers. What made you decide to write about immigration?


I’ve always written about immigration of one sort or another. Even my mystical, fantastical stories have immigrant figures in them. The first novel I fell in love with, Wuthering Heights, is about an immigrant. Immigration is the ultimate story—it encompasses every basic plot type: rags to riches, overcoming the monster, the quest, rebirth, comedy, tragedy, voyage and return. Migration is a process of transcendence that reaches into so many aspects of our lives; it’s not always about passports and visas. Motherhood is a form of migration. So is love and so is death.

How did you choose each woman’s country of origin?

It felt natural, from the outset, to make Kavya Indian-American. I could have made her Anglo-American, but I wouldn’t have enjoyed writing that as much. Eventually, it became clear that this book was not just about adoption and detention, but about privileged and unprivileged immigration, and about the dynamics of California’s recently established non-white majority. At that point, Kavya’s ethnicity became essential.  I chose to make Soli Mexican because I’m personally interested in Mexico and in the individual stories of Mexicans in this country. I also knew that I’d have a decent chance of spending some time in Mexico. It felt important to spend some time absorbing the environment in which Soli was raised.
 
What kind of research did you do for the book, especially on the process of foster care and adoption?

This book took a lot of research. I interviewed immigration lawyers, immigrant advocates, trained with a detention advocacy group, read the testimonies of undocumented immigrants, read countless documents on immigration policy, spoke with a psychologist who works with the undocumented, and read reports on detention and family law. I also interviewed undocumented immigrants who’d crossed the border, as well as women who’d undergone fertility treatments. I spent two weeks in Oaxaca, Mexico, and an afternoon in a sorority kitchen.
 
Because I’d never fostered or adopted a child myself, my research into the topic was ongoing. I started out by attending a fostering information session at the local social services office—that session gave me the basic facts of what it takes to foster, but it also revealed something about the philosophy of fostering, the child-centered mind-set of the system and the warmth and enthusiasm of many of the parents I encountered there. I also interviewed several Bay Area parents who’d adopted Latino/a children, and read a lot of testimonials and some parenting books on toddler adoption.

How much of Soli’s treatment in the immigrant detention center is realistic? What rights do immigrant mothers with children born in the United States have?

Soli’s treatment in the detention center is as realistic as humans are fallible. The depiction of the center as a place of incarceration, where detainees are treated like convicted criminals, and often housed in cells adjacent to criminals, is realistic. Some centers are more humane than others, but the vast majority of them don’t offer detainees the services (classes, cooperation with family courts, etc.) that prisoners might access. Detainees are often vulnerable to the same abuses of power that affect prisoners. The rights of immigrant mothers are limited by a disconnect between immigration law and the family court system. Immigration law gives them the right to take their children with them when they’re deported, but family courts and the nature of the detention system often stand in the way of that right.


Which of the mothers do you most identify with? How did your own experience as a mother inform your writing of the characters?

I think choosing a mother to identify with would bring me too close to choosing a mother with whom to side. I identify with different aspects of both mothers’ experiences. Much of the detail from Ignacio’s newborn days comes from the notes I jotted down just after my first child was born. I’ve never had fertility issues, so I had to imagine and research Kavya’s struggle with infertility, but aspects of her life with toddler-aged Ignacio—her storytelling, for example—come straight from my own experience.

Without giving anything away, did you always know how the story would end? Or did the ending change as you wrote each character?

The ending to this changed once or twice. Character development influenced the ending, of course, but when I was deciding what was going to happen, I spent a few drafts negotiating reality and drama to come up with a resolution that fit the buildup of the story.


Berkeley is an incredibly special place to both Soli and Kavya. Tell us about the role of the city in Lucky Boy and why you decided to set the story there.

Berkeley has always felt like home to me. I love writing about it. There’s always something happening, and it’s very much a liberal, highly educated bubble. It was for its bubbledom that I chose it as the setting for Lucky Boy; by placing Soli in a socially conscious, left-leaning place that generally welcomes immigrants, I could show that the loneliness and uncertainty of the undocumented experience can exist even in a hospitable environment.

What influence, if any, did your own heritage and family history play when writing Lucky Boy?

My parents came to America from India in the 1960s, when the United States was recruiting physicians from abroad. Being the daughter of immigrants gave me something of a view into Soli’s life—the bravery it took for her to negotiate even the most mundane of tasks, the social isolation, the slow and exhausting process of learning to live in an unfamiliar world. Of course, I identify closely with Kavya’s experiences as an Indian-American. As I was writing, I was very aware that I live in America because my parents were given a legal path to residency, and that many immigrants are not given this. This awareness informed the trajectory of Soli’s story, as well as Kavya and Rishi’s.

What was your process of writing this book? How long did it take you? How is this novel different from your first novel?

This novel was more ambitious and therefore more daunting than my first. I stepped out of my comfort zone as a writer, and took on issues that lay outside of my personal history: living in Mexico, undocumented immigration, detention, fertility, and foster care. I began with Soli’s story. As I told her story, my knowledge gaps guided my research. The first draft took about two years to write; I was working and raising my first son at the time. The entire process, over multiple drafts, took four years.
 
When did you decide to become a writer? Was it something you always aspired to? What writers have inspired or influenced your work?

I started writing as a child, funny little poems, mostly. My older brothers used to talk about me becoming a writer, but I don’t think any of us actually thought it would happen. It really wasn’t until the end of college that I made prolonged attempts at writing fiction. I started with a journal, then got a little bored of myself and turned myself into a cast of characters. That was my first attempt at a novel. It got me into an MFA program, but then it was laid to rest, thankfully. But those first attempts, in my early twenties, brought me to a point where I felt ready to take a risk and give writing a try.
 
As a writer, I look for books that loosen my own tongue and take me out of the strict confines of what I see as “my voice.” When I read writers whose styles are wildly different from mine, I end up copying them. I then go back to what I’ve written, and it’s so obviously a mimicry of someone else’s voice that I have no choice but to rewrite it in my own voice. But when I’ve stepped out of myself for a little while, my voice stretches a little, and I discover what I’m able to do. My favorite authors are the ones with generous voices, who give us character and story and more story: Zadie Smith, Roald Dahl, Mohsin Hamid, Virginia Woolf, Vikram Seth, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Vladimir Nabokov, Emily Bronte, Toni Morrison.

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