The Leavers

Polly’s boyfriend, and Vivian’s brother. Leon is a good-natured man who works in a slaughterhouse and enjoys playing cards. He and Polly fall in love shortly before Deming returns as a five-year-old to the United States after having lived in China for several years with Polly’s father. Unbothered that Polly has a son, Leon suggests that she and Deming move in with him, Vivian, and Michael, and they enjoy six happy years together before Polly disappears. In the months after Polly vanishes, Leon tries his best to care for Deming, but he has trouble making enough money because he has a back injury that gets in the way of his ability to work. After six months, he moves back to China without saying farewell to Deming. Ten years later, Vivian gives Deming (who now goes by Daniel) Leon’s number. When Daniel calls, he learns that Leon has a wife and a daughter, and Leon gives him Polly’s current information. Not long after this conversation, Daniel travels to Fuzhou, and when he can’t find his mother, he reaches out to Leon, who helps him find Polly’s apartment.

Leon Quotes in The Leavers

The The Leavers quotes below are all either spoken by Leon or refer to Leon. For each quote, you can also see the other characters and themes related to it (each theme is indicated by its own dot and icon, like this one:
Cultural Identity and Belonging Theme Icon
). Note: all page numbers and citation info for the quotes below refer to the Algongquin Books edition of The Leavers published in 2018.
Chapter 1 Quotes

There was a restlessness to her, an inability to be still or settled. She jiggled her legs, bounced her knees, cracked her knuckles, twirled her thumbs. She hated being cooped up in the apartment on a sunny day, paced the rooms from wall to wall to wall, a cigarette dangling from her mouth. “Who wants to go for a walk?” she would say. Her boyfriend Leon would tell her to relax, sit down. “Sit down? We’ve been sitting all day!” Deming would want to stay on the couch with Michael, but he couldn’t say no to her and they’d go out, no family but each other. He would have her to himself, an ambling walk in the park or along the river, making up stories about who lived in the apartments they saw from the outside.

Page Number: 4
Explanation and Analysis:
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If he hadn’t gotten detention—if he had left school at the usual time—if he hadn’t resisted Florida—if he’d intercepted the fight she had with Leon—she would still be here. Like a detective inspecting the same five seconds of surveillance video, he replayed last Wednesday afternoon, walking the blocks from school to home.

Page Number: 5
Explanation and Analysis:
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Chapter 10 Quotes

Once I might have become this woman, free to move across the country because she heard a city was beautiful. Instead I had become a woman like Vivian, watching TV, cooking for you and Leon, making sure the dumplings were fried and not steamed, unsure if I should marry my boyfriend but not wanting to lose him either. An uneasiness settled into me. This October would be followed by another winter, another spring, until it was time for October again.

Page Number: 205
Explanation and Analysis:
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Leon Character Timeline in The Leavers

The timeline below shows where the character Leon appears in The Leavers. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Chapter 1
Migration, Change, and Happiness Theme Icon
Parenthood, Support, and Expectations Theme Icon
...so he can have a better life than her. She asks him if he thinks Leon—her boyfriend—seems happy at his job at the slaughterhouse, and when Deming says Leon seems fine,... (full context)
Migration, Change, and Happiness Theme Icon
Self-Deception and Rationalization Theme Icon
Parenthood, Support, and Expectations Theme Icon
...next sentence, she cuts him off, saying, “But then I had you. Then I met Leon. You’re my home now.” Letting this settle for a moment, she tells Deming that they’re... (full context)
Cultural Identity and Belonging Theme Icon
Racism, Cultural Insensitivity, and Implicit Bias Theme Icon
Parenthood, Support, and Expectations Theme Icon
...being Chinese. “Badass, Deming!” Michael said in the moment. That night, Deming wakes up when Leon comes home from the slaughterhouse. Listening to his mother whisper to her boyfriend in the... (full context)
Migration, Change, and Happiness Theme Icon
Parenthood, Support, and Expectations Theme Icon
...television and wait for Polly to come home, but she doesn’t return from work. When Leon comes back from the slaughterhouse, he’s puzzled by Polly’s absence. Eventually, he receives a call,... (full context)
Parenthood, Support, and Expectations Theme Icon
Winter turns to spring, and still Polly is missing. Deming walks in on Vivian and Leon having a hushed conversation in the kitchen one night, and when they see him, they... (full context)
Chapter 2
Cultural Identity and Belonging Theme Icon
Migration, Change, and Happiness Theme Icon
“You and your mom used to live with me and my mom and my Uncle Leon in the Bronx,” Michael writes in his email to Daniel. “I know we haven’t talked... (full context)
Chapter 3
Parenthood, Support, and Expectations Theme Icon
...to come back and spending time in the stagnant city heat with Michael. Vivian and Leon do their best to care for him, but neither can replace his mother. Leon, for... (full context)
Parenthood, Support, and Expectations Theme Icon
...and Deming calls off the plan, dejectedly saying, “Let’s go home.” That night, he watches Leon sleep and thinks about how badly he “need[s]” him. Shortly thereafter, Leon gets injured at... (full context)
Migration, Change, and Happiness Theme Icon
Parenthood, Support, and Expectations Theme Icon
...“screaming about the nail salon,” saying that “the boss [is] involved in something shady.” When Leon calls the restaurant in Florida where Polly planned to work, they tell him she never... (full context)
Migration, Change, and Happiness Theme Icon
Parenthood, Support, and Expectations Theme Icon
One night, Leon doesn’t come home until long after midnight. “You smell like a bar,” Vivian says to... (full context)
Parenthood, Support, and Expectations Theme Icon
Three weeks after Leon leaves, Vivian tells Deming she wants to take him shopping. Michael is sad to be... (full context)
Chapter 5
Cultural Identity and Belonging Theme Icon
...off from college, adding that he plays in Psychic Hearts. “You still in touch with Leon?” Daniel asks, and Michael says that they talk sometimes. Apparently, Leon lives in Fuzhou, is... (full context)
Parenthood, Support, and Expectations Theme Icon
...looks at him and tells him that his mother is alive, which she knows because Leon told her. (full context)
Parenthood, Support, and Expectations Theme Icon
...she shoves an envelope in his hand. “I paid your mother’s debt,” she says. “When Leon left there was still money owed. Who do you think paid? If I hadn’t paid,... (full context)
Chapter 6
Cultural Identity and Belonging Theme Icon
Migration, Change, and Happiness Theme Icon
Parenthood, Support, and Expectations Theme Icon
...Fuzhounese. “This is your son, Deming. I am good. New York is where I live. Leon your number gave me. Leon I found, Michael found me. You are good? I would... (full context)
Migration, Change, and Happiness Theme Icon
Self-Deception and Rationalization Theme Icon
Parenthood, Support, and Expectations Theme Icon
...long I had wanted to find you,” Polly notes, referring to Deming. She explains that Leon told her Deming was adopted, and she goes out of her way to underline the... (full context)
Chapter 8
Migration, Change, and Happiness Theme Icon
Parenthood, Support, and Expectations Theme Icon
Ko resumes Daniel’s story, explaining that he calls the number Vivian gave him for Leon and reaches him on the first attempt. Leon is excited to hear from him and... (full context)
Chapter 9
Migration, Change, and Happiness Theme Icon
Parenthood, Support, and Expectations Theme Icon
...she never tried to find him, and she tells him she “looked for years,” but Leon didn’t know where he’d gone, so it was impossible. (full context)
Migration, Change, and Happiness Theme Icon
Self-Deception and Rationalization Theme Icon
Parenthood, Support, and Expectations Theme Icon
...Polly says there are a number of things Daniel doesn’t understand, urging him to ask Leon for more details. He then hears a man’s voice in the background, and Polly says,... (full context)
Chapter 10
Parenthood, Support, and Expectations Theme Icon
...States, Polly goes to a party at Didi’s boyfriend’s house. While she’s there, she meets Leon for the first time and is attracted to the way he shuffles cards during a... (full context)
Migration, Change, and Happiness Theme Icon
Leon lives with Vivian (his sister) and Michael, and he invites Polly and Deming to move... (full context)
Migration, Change, and Happiness Theme Icon
Parenthood, Support, and Expectations Theme Icon
Leon’s back starts bothering him so much that his performance suffers at work. During this time,... (full context)
Migration, Change, and Happiness Theme Icon
Parenthood, Support, and Expectations Theme Icon
Not long after Leon’s proposal, Polly walks around on her day off and goes into a small Chinese restaurant... (full context)
Migration, Change, and Happiness Theme Icon
Self-Deception and Rationalization Theme Icon
...I no longer resembled my younger self,” she thinks. Not long after this, Polly and Leon take a trip to Atlantic City because Didi has a number of vouchers for free... (full context)
Migration, Change, and Happiness Theme Icon
Self-Deception and Rationalization Theme Icon
...she came to Atlantic City with $380. The next morning, she wakes to discover that Leon has spent it all. “First I won so much, you wouldn’t believe it,” he says.... (full context)
Migration, Change, and Happiness Theme Icon
...Polly hears about a job opportunity at a restaurant in Florida. That night, she tells Leon she wants to go, but he isn’t convinced. She reminds him that he lost her... (full context)
Migration, Change, and Happiness Theme Icon
Self-Deception and Rationalization Theme Icon
Parenthood, Support, and Expectations Theme Icon
One day, Polly tells Deming that the family is moving, even though Leon hasn’t agreed. That night, Leon comes home from his late-night shift, and Polly tries once... (full context)
Migration, Change, and Happiness Theme Icon
The next morning, Polly gets up and talks to Leon in the kitchen. “I’ll think about Florida,” he says, adding that it might be good... (full context)
Chapter 11
Parenthood, Support, and Expectations Theme Icon
...since the only person she’s talked to about why and how she left America is Leon. “Telling Yong would ruin everything,” she notes in her narration. “There were still nights I... (full context)
Chapter 12
Migration, Change, and Happiness Theme Icon
Parenthood, Support, and Expectations Theme Icon
...Polly never would have left if she didn’t have to. She also tells him that Leon talked to Didi after Polly disappeared. “Turned out someone ratted their boss out to ICE,”... (full context)
Chapter 15
Cultural Identity and Belonging Theme Icon
Migration, Change, and Happiness Theme Icon
...there are too many people with those names. Discouraged, he finally gets in touch with Leon, who picks him up from the hotel and insists that he stay with him while... (full context)
Migration, Change, and Happiness Theme Icon
Parenthood, Support, and Expectations Theme Icon
Daniel meets Leon’s wife and daughter, who are both happy to host him. Leon, for his part, is... (full context)
Chapter 17
Migration, Change, and Happiness Theme Icon
Parenthood, Support, and Expectations Theme Icon
...that her skin tears, but still she only thinks about what she’s missing, wondering if Leon has taken another lover. One day, Polly and a group of detainees decide to protest... (full context)
Chapter 18
Migration, Change, and Happiness Theme Icon
Parenthood, Support, and Expectations Theme Icon
...by her story, but he keeps asking questions. When she tells him that she saw Leon after returning to Fuzhou, he asks, “Didn’t he tell you I was adopted?” As she... (full context)
Cultural Identity and Belonging Theme Icon
Migration, Change, and Happiness Theme Icon
Still narrating her reunification with Leon, Polly says he takes her to his friend’s apartment, which is empty. He can’t take... (full context)
Cultural Identity and Belonging Theme Icon
Migration, Change, and Happiness Theme Icon
Self-Deception and Rationalization Theme Icon
Parenthood, Support, and Expectations Theme Icon
After her time with Leon, Polly takes a business class, and her teacher is so impressed that she lived in... (full context)
Chapter 19
Cultural Identity and Belonging Theme Icon
Migration, Change, and Happiness Theme Icon
...with him in the evening, they look at each other and say they can’t. Similarly, Leon—whom Daniel sees a couple times a week—is busy. (full context)