The Leftover Woman
Grade : C

I found The Leftover Woman hard to grade. It kept me reading, but I can’t say I enjoyed it. If you are looking for an exploration of what it might be like to be a mother affected by China’s One Child policy, this could be the story for you. Maybe.

Jasmine was never wanted. In her small, Chinese village, she was raised as the twin sister of a desired son, never given love, neglected in every respect, and married off when she was only fourteen to a man who proved to be controlling and physically abusive. Perhaps his biggest betrayal was telling Jasmine that her newborn baby daughter had died after birth only to arrange for his unwanted female child to be adopted by a couple from the United States. When Jasmine discovers that her daughter lives, she determines to go to America to find her.

Successful literary editor Rebecca Whitney’s charmed life is falling apart. After a giant scandal involving a writer Rebecca had shepherded through the publishing process, she’s feeling tremendous pressure to sign hot author Isabel Navarro in order to restore her reputation. Her marriage to the charming Brandon has hit a rocky patch when both suspect the other of cheating and keeping secrets, and her adopted daughter Fifi has bonded a little too closely with Lucy, the Chinese nanny they’ve hired to teach Fifi about her culture and language. One thing after another goes wrong, and secrets keep mounting as Rebecca tries to make sense of the things happening all around her. 

Needing a job to pay off the “snakeheads” who transported her to America but having no paperwork to mark her as a legal immigrant, Jasmine finds work at a strip club called Opium, where she encounters the lowest of all human experiences. She struggles to re-define her relationship with a man she knew and loved as a young girl, pushing him away when she fears any connection between them might mean discovery by the abusive husband she escaped from.     

The pacing of this book is very odd. The first two sections focus on a handful of events in minute detail, when all of a sudden, everything blows up in the third part. Secrets are revealed and Jasmine’s past catches up with her. I can’t say much due to spoilers, but the action shifts from leisurely to fast-paced in the blink of an eye.

Too, for some reason, Kwok puts the chapters that focus on Jasmine in first person past tense, while the ones focusing on Rebecca are in third person present tense. The shift threw me out of the story every single time the characters changed, and I found it to be a pretentious style choice serving no purpose that I could see. This was another contributing factor to the weird pacing and led to a lot of confusion over timelines.

The biggest issue I had with the book was the giant twist. First, it’s fairly easy to spot. But because it is so predictable, Kwok tries to mislead the reader by leaving out so much information that I was often shaking my head in bewilderment because things didn’t make sense. It wasn’t so much the case that the twist was written so cleverly that you had an ‘Ah ha!’ moment, but rather an eye-roll of getting answers to gigantic plot holes.

Rebecca is a bit of a stereotype, the high-powered professional New York City, old money elite woman who has it all, down to the adorable little girl adopted from China. Jasmine is inconsistent, in one moment a timid waif only to turn around and advocate for herself with shouting and fiery speeches. She’s a bit of an enigma, stating how much she hates her face in one second only to describe the reactions of people around her in such a way as to let us know she’s actually beautiful. 

In the end, the seeds of an intriguing story are here. The anguish of having your child stolen from you because of a cruel governmental policy (and an evil husband) and the effort to find that child makes for a heart-wrenching situation. But I simply couldn’t connect with either Jasmine or Rebecca in such a way that made me really care. The Leftover Woman is not bad. It’s just… meh.

Reviewed by Jenna Harper

Grade: C

Book Type: Women's Fiction

Sensuality: Kisses

Review Date : November 10, 2023

Publication Date: 10/2023

Review Tags: AoC PoC

Recent Comments …

  1. Thank you . I read the free sample and the nonsense you expound on above was sufficiently grating to me…

  2. I was Shane when l was 10 ye old l love the theme song what a thing between Shane and…

Jenna Harper

I'm a city-fied suburban hockey mom who owns more books than I will probably ever manage to read in my lifetime, but I'm determined to try.
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