cover image The Leftover Woman

The Leftover Woman

Jean Kwok. Morrow, $30 (288p) ISBN 978-0-06-303146-3

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.)