Reviews for The leftover woman: a novel

Publishers Weekly
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Kwok’s propulsive latest (after Searching for Sylvie Lee) follows a young woman who escapes an abusive marriage in China to find the daughter her husband gave up for adoption. Jasmine married Wen in her rural village when she was 14. Told her daughter died shortly after birth, she learns several years later that Wen, who wanted a boy, gave the baby away in an informal adoption. Jasmine then flees to New York City to track down her child, and supports herself as a cocktail waitress at a strip club. A parallel narrative involves Rebecca, a white, married publishing executive who’s the adoptive mother of Jasmine’s child; Rebecca and her husband, Brandon, have named the girl Fiona. Rebecca’s career is in shaky territory, Brandon appears to be hiding something, and Fiona spends most of her time with her Chinese nanny, Lucy, an awkward woman Rebecca resents. The novel wrestles with many of the same issues as Celeste Ng’s Little Fires Everywhere, but handles the material with less nuance, and a big reveal feels like too much of a stretch. Still, Kwok ratchets up the tension between Rebecca and Lucy, making for an engrossing and suspenseful plot. This is worth a look. Agent: Suzanne Gluck, WME. (Oct.)

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A rural Chinese villager becomes a nanny by day and cocktail waitress by night after illegally immigrating to the U.S. in a bid to reclaim her stolen daughter. Month after month, Jasmine tries to find work in Manhattan's Chinatown, but her lack of documentation compels most aboveboard employers to turn her away. She owes an astronomical sum to the snakeheads—human smugglers—who ferried her to New York. If she doesn’t repay them by a certain date, they’ll force her into prostitution. Overhearing Jasmine petition the manager of a teahouse for a job, a customer offers a cryptic referral: Ask for Aunt Glory at Opium. Opium turns out to be a seedy Asian strip club, Aunt Glory its ruthless proprietress. While Jasmine is repulsed by the nature of the work, she has no choice but to sign on. Her reasons for fleeing China become clear as her backstory is revealed. She is not only escaping her abusive husband, Wen, but also searching for their only child, a daughter taken from Jasmine at birth. Mindful of China’s one-child policy, Wen arranged for the baby to be spirited out of the country in an under-the-table adoption and told Jasmine the baby had died, all because he wanted a son. By snooping through Wen’s email account, Jasmine discovered the truth, identified the adoptive parents as New York City couple Brandon and Rebecca Whitney, and resolved to track down her daughter whatever the cost. Knowing Brandon and Rebecca are in search of live-in help, Jasmine successfully infiltrates the family. She balances her duties with her shifts at Opium, often sneaking back into the Whitney home through a skylight so as not to arouse suspicion. Her plan is to disappear with her daughter after making enough money to both repay the snakeheads and start a new life. But the household is soon victimized by a series of thinly veiled threats, suggesting that someone has cottoned on to Jasmine’s secret. Chapters end on cliffhangers that keep the narrative moving forward. Unfortunately, some of the plot points recall the overwrought beats of a soap opera, such as Jasmine’s will-they, won’t-they relationship with her childhood best friend and a violent confrontation that serves as the novel's climax. Jasmine herself embodies the rom-com trope of the stunning female main character who somehow doesn’t know she’s beautiful. A highly entertaining page-turner that has a propensity for melodrama and cliché. Copyright © Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.

Book list
From Booklist, Copyright © American Library Association. Used with permission.

Kwok follows her Read with Jenna pick, Searching for Sylvie Lee (2019), with another layered novel about the Chinese experience abroad. It’s 2007, and Jasmine Yang has made it across the ocean to the Beautiful Country, but not without a price. She owes a fortune to the snakeheads, the Chinese mafia who helped her arrive illegally. She’s in New York City to find her daughter from an arranged marriage in China. Her abusive husband took their child and sent her off to be adopted; due to the Chinese one-child policy, they would have a second chance for a boy. Jasmine is determined to find her daughter, but Fiona already has a mother. Rebecca Whitney is a high-profile book editor balancing work and parenting, and it feels like her entire world is collapsing too. As both women struggle, albeit in completely different scenarios, readers can empathize with the people who shape Fiona’s life. Kwok brings her signature lyrical prose to the novel, while suspense simmers in the background. The dangerous club Jasmine works for and the presence of the snakeheads indicate the high stakes, yet there are also tender moments, showing the power of the love both women have for their daughter. Highly recommended.