Jean
New York Times Bestselling Author
Award Winning Writer
Travels from: New York City

“Kwok’s story spans generations, continents and language barriers, combining old-fashioned Nancy Drew sleuthing with the warmth and heart we’ve come to expect from this gifted writer.”—New York Times Book Review

Jean Kwok is the award-winning, New York Times and international bestselling author of The Leftover Woman (coming Oct 10, 2023), Searching for Sylvie Lee, Girl in Translation and Mambo in Chinatown. Her work has been published in twenty countries and taught in universities, colleges and high schools across the world.

An instant New York Times bestseller, Searching for Sylvie Lee was selected for the Read with Jenna Today Show Book Club and featured in The New York Times, Time, Newsweek, CNN, The New York Post, The Washington Post, O Magazine, People, Entertainment Weekly and more. Jean has been chosen for numerous honors including the American Library Association Alex Award, the Chinese American Librarians Association Best Book Award, an Orange New Writers title and the Sunday Times Short Story Award international shortlist. She was one of twelve authors asked by the Agatha Christie estate to write an original, authorized Miss Marple story for Marple: Twelve New Mysteries.

She has appeared on The Today Show and Good Morning America, and spoken at many schools and venues including Harvard University, Columbia University, Talks at Google and the Tucson Festival of Books. A television documentary was filmed about Jean and her work.

Jean immigrated from Hong Kong to Brooklyn when she was five and worked in a Chinatown clothing factory for much of her childhood while living in an unheated, roach-infested apartment. In between her undergraduate degree at Harvard and MFA in fiction at Columbia, she worked for three years as a professional ballroom dancer. Jean is trilingual, fluent in Dutch, Chinese and English, and studied Latin for seven years. She divides her time between the Netherlands and New York City.

The Leftover Woman

William Morrow & Company |
Fiction

Jasmine Yang arrives in New York City from her rural Chinese village without money or family support, fleeing a controlling husband, on a desperate search for the daughter who was taken from her at birth–another female casualty of China’s controversial One Child Policy. But with her husband on her trail, the clock is ticking, and she’s forced to make increasingly desperate decisions if she ever hopes to be reunited with her daughter.

Meanwhile, publishing executive Rebecca Whitney seems to have it all: a prestigious family name and the wealth that comes with it, a high-powered career, a beautiful home, a handsome husband, and an adopted Chinese daughter she adores. She’s even hired a Chinese nanny to help her balance the demands of being a working wife and mother. But when an industry scandal threatens to jeopardize not only Rebecca’s job but her marriage, this perfect world begins to crumble and her role in her own family is called into question.

The Leftover Woman finds these two unforgettable women on a shocking collision course. Twisting and suspenseful and surprisingly poignant, it’s a profound exploration of identity and belonging, motherhood and family. It is a story of two women in a divided city–separated by severe economic and cultural differences yet bound by a deep emotional connection to a child.

Searching for Sylvie Lee

William Morrow & Company |
Fiction

It begins with a mystery. Sylvie, the beautiful, brilliant, successful older daughter of the Lee family, flies to the Netherlands for one final visit with her dying grandmother–and then vanishes.

Amy, the sheltered baby of the Lee family, is too young to remember a time when her parents were newly immigrated and too poor to keep Sylvie. Seven years older, Sylvie was raised by a distant relative in a faraway, foreign place, and didn’t rejoin her family in America until age nine. Timid and shy, Amy has always looked up to her sister, the fierce and fearless protector who showered her with unconditional love.

But what happened to Sylvie? Amy and her parents are distraught and desperate for answers. Sylvie has always looked out for them. Now, it’s Amy’s turn to help. Terrified yet determined, Amy retraces her sister’s movements, flying to the last place Sylvie was seen. But instead of simple answers, she discovers something much more valuable: the truth. Sylvie, the golden girl, kept painful secrets . . . secrets that will reveal more about Amy’s complicated family–and herself–than she ever could have imagined.

A deeply moving story of family, secrets, identity, and longing, Searching for Sylvie Lee is both a gripping page-turner and a sensitive portrait of an immigrant family. It is a profound exploration of the many ways culture and language can divide us and the impossibility of ever truly knowing someone–especially those we love.

Mambo in Chinatown

Riverhead Books |
Fiction

Twenty-two-year-old Charlie Wong grew up in New York’s Chinatown, the older daughter of a Beijing ballerina and a noodle maker. Though an ABC (American-born Chinese), Charlie’s entire life has been limited to this small area. Now grown, she lives in the same tiny apartment with her widower father and her eleven-year-old sister, and works—miserably—as a dishwasher.

But when she lands a job as a receptionist at a ballroom dance studio, Charlie gains access to a world she hardly knew existed, and everything she once took to be certain turns upside down. Gradually, at the dance studio, awkward Charlie’s natural talents begin to emerge. With them, her perspective, expectations, and sense of self are transformed—something she must take great pains to hide from her father and his suspicion of all things Western. As Charlie blossoms, though, her sister becomes chronically ill. As Pa insists on treating his ailing child exclusively with Eastern practices to no avail, Charlie is forced to try to reconcile her two selves and her two worlds—Eastern and Western, old world and new—to rescue her little sister without sacrificing her newfound confidence and identity.

Girl in Translation

Riverhead Books |
Fiction

When Kimberly Chang and her mother emigrate from Hong Kong to Brooklyn squalor, she quickly begins a secret double life: exceptional schoolgirl during the day, Chinatown sweatshop worker in the evenings. Disguising the more difficult truths of her life–like the staggering degree of her poverty, the weight of her family’s future resting on her shoulders, or her secret love for a factory boy who shares none of her talent or ambition–Kimberly learns to constantly translate not just her language but herself back and forth between the worlds she straddles.

Through Kimberly’s story, author Jean Kwok, who also emigrated from Hong Kong as a young girl, brings to the page the lives of countless immigrants who are caught between the pressure to succeed in America, their duty to their family, and their own personal desires, exposing a world that we rarely hear about. Written in an indelible voice that dramatizes the tensions of an immigrant girl growing up between two cultures, surrounded by a language and world only half understood, Girl in Translation is an unforgettable and classic novel of an American immigrant-a moving tale of hardship and triumph, heartbreak and love, and all that gets lost in translation.

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From Working Class Immigrant to International Bestselling Author

This is the inspiring story of Jean’s life: how she went from living in a rat-infested, unheated apartment in Brooklyn and working in a Chinatown sweatshop as a child to graduating from Harvard and becoming an international bestselling author. Can be supported using texts like Girl in Translation, Mambo in Chinatown and Searching for Sylvie Lee.

In particular, Girl in Translation speaks to many topics that are of pressing concern to students and teachers today. These include immigrant rights, workplace exploitation, and urban poverty; race, culture, and identity formation; and the challenges faced by immigrant youth in school and family and peer relations. The novel can be used to anchor curriculum units in literature and social studies that pertain to immigration history, Asian American experiences, U. S. History post-1945, economic justice, and urban studies.

One student wrote, “You know, professor, this semester really made me think. Like now, I’ll be riding the subway, and a person will get on and push me or something, and I’ll start to get mad, and then I look at them and I think, ‘You know, that could be Kim or Ma from Girl in Translation… and I stop being mad and racist–you know? Reading really changed how I see people.’”

Perfect for schools, common reads, libraries and companies. Jean enhances her talk with photos and video in a Powerpoint.

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Immigration: Dream vs Reality

Jean has emigrated twice in her life, from Hong Kong to NYC when she was a child, and then later as an adult when she moved from the US to the Netherlands. Jean Kwok shows a Powerpoint and speaks about her novel Mambo in Chinatownand the inspiration behind it, and her own experience moving from impoverished immigrant to Harvard graduate to bestselling author. Jean also worked as a professional ballroom dancer in between her degrees at Harvard and Columbia. She covers themes of the American Dream, race, identity, culture, rejection, success and failure.

Mambo in Chinatown is about a working class girl named Charlie who isn’t clever at school but follows her dreams to become a professional ballroom dancer through grit and resilience. She competes in a dance competition in order to raise the money to save her little sister, who is sick and not insured. Her father only wants to treat the sister with traditional eastern medicine.

One student wrote, “Studying Jean Kwok’s Mambo in Chinatown allowed me to learn more about wealth disparities and healthcare access in the country, which are two of the main facets of American life that motivate me to become a civil rights lawyer.”

According to a now-famous Asian American actress, “It wasn’t just the industry we were aspiring to be a part of that upset us, but also the countless racial microaggressions/ enforcement of stereotypes we dealt with at our school on a daily basis. This was the mindset I was in when I started reading your book. Mambo in Chinatown changed my perspective on approaching physical representation, on how one can cultivate the power of individual beauty through a simple confidence, self-trust, and a bit of steel. Reading Mambo in Chinatown helped replenish my determination to keep fighting for my dreams and for representation, at a time where all of our efforts to be heard—the letters, petitions, and conventions—seemed to be in vain. Since then, I have kept this story in my heart, and it has kept me strong.”

Jean enhances her talk with photos and video in a Powerpoint. Perfect for schools, common reads, libraries and companies.

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The Asian American Diaspora: Searching for Sylvie Lee

Searching for Sylvie Lee talks about the Asian American diaspora in a global sense. Sylvie is sent to the Netherlands to be raised by her grandmother because her working class parents are too poor to take care of a baby while working day and night. Sylvie grows up to become a dazzling yet lonely perfectionist. When she disappears while on a trip to the Netherlands to see her dying grandmother, her stuttering, shy younger sister Amy must follow in her footsteps to figure out what happened to her beloved older sister.

Each narrator is thinking in their own language even though the entire novel is written in English: Ma in Chinese, Sylvie in Dutch and Amy in English. The reader experiences the tragic gulf that often develops between generations of an immigrant family when we follow Amy’s narration and see Ma as a very simple, if beloved woman, with her limited English. However, we then go into Ma’s chapter, in which Ma is thinking in Chinese, and we realize that Ma is so much wiser and more complicated in her own language than her own daughter knows.

The novel asks the questions: What is the price of the American Dream and who pays it? How well do we know the people we love the most?

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I Wish I'd Known: Tips from an Internationally Bestselling Author

From getting an agent to working with an editor to doing publicity, the life of a writer is filled with potential pitfalls. What are things you should do before you ever sign with an agent? What are definite no-nos while trying to get an agent? How many of your editor’s changes do you accept? What are tips for a great reading? How can you best do publicity? This internationally bestselling author talks about her own experiences with different agencies and publishing houses and shares her hard-earned advice.

Jean can talk about any aspect of writing fiction, ranging from production of the material to narrative design and structuring a novel. Jean enhances her talk with photos and video in a Powerpoint.

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The Price of the American Dream and the Asian Diaspora

Jean was a Chinatown child factory worker who grew up to go to Harvard and become a New York Times bestselling author. She drew upon her own experiences to write Searching for Sylvie Lee , which explores the aftermath of the achievement of the American Dream. In this propulsive, page-turning novel, the dazzling older sister who disappears keeps many painful secrets. The mother does not speak English fluently and therefore cannot fully communicate with her own children. The younger sister is burdened by overwhelming expectations.

Searching for Sylvie Lee talks about the Asian diaspora in a global sense. Sylvie is sent to the Netherlands to be raised by her grandmother because her working class parents are too poor to take care of a baby while working day and night. After returning to the US, Sylvie grows up to become a dazzling yet lonely perfectionist. When she disappears while on a trip to the Netherlands to see her dying grandmother, her stuttering, shy younger sister Amy must follow in her footsteps to figure out what happened to her beloved older sister.

Although the entire novel is written in English, Searching for Sylvie Lee is told by three women thinking in three different languages: Chinese, Dutch and English. Jean, who is trilingual, develops this technique to turn the reader into a native speaker of each of these languages so that the reader ultimately understands the characters better than they do each other. In this divided era, Jean believes that books about immigration are more important than ever and takes this process of learning a step further by having the reader undergo the experience of thinking in a foreign language instead of simply reading about it.

Searching for Sylvie Lee is the perfect accompaniment to Jean’s debut novel, Girl in Translation, which asks, Is the American dream possible? Searching for Sylvie Lee poses the questions: What is the price of the American Dream and who pays it? How well do we know the people we love the most?

One librarian wrote, “Searching for Sylvie Lee has so many points of discussion; from family dynamics, racism, generational differences, exploration of marriage and sisterhood to traveling with the characters from Brooklyn to the Netherlands.”

Perfect for schools, common reads, libraries and companies. Jean enhances her talk with photos and video in a Powerpoint.

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Bridging the Gap: Finding Connection instead of Differences

How can we manage different races, cultures and native languages in the classroom in a competent, caring way? How can we best help students who come from vastly different backgrounds than our own? It is so easy to misunderstand and mishandle sensitive situations. Jean speaks about her own background, then talks about how to recognize our own cultural lens and better understanding the cultural backgrounds of others, building a broader knowledge base and possible cultural management strategies.

Perfect for schools, common reads, libraries and companies. Jean enhances her talk with photos and video in a Powerpoint.

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Secrets, Identity and Connection

We have all had that experience of feeling flabbergasted when we discover that someone we thought we knew intimately has secrets. Jean offers a personal view from having been that person herself, from her own years as a teacher and from her talks with similar people across the world. As someone who spent her childhood in poverty and yet went to exclusive schools like Harvard, Jean kept secrets from everyone she knew in order to survive. She misled her friends about her home life and she lied to her conservative family so that she could work in male-dominated environments her family disapproved of.

Jean provides possible explanations, dispels common assumptions and talks about potential solutions for a meaningful connection. She discusses how someone’s outsides may be completely different from their insides. A student or employee who might seem arrogant, disinterested and lazy may be leading a double life that we know nothing about.

Jean drew upon these experiences to write Searching for Sylvie Lee, in which everyone is keeping secrets from the people they love most. She explores the possibility – or impossibility – of ever truly knowing another person.

Perfect for schools, common reads, libraries and companies. Jean enhances her talk with photos and video in a Powerpoint.

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Developing Your Writing Process: How to Get the Magic to Flow

This talk is about the specifics of being a productive, working writer; pacing yourself, burnout, also conquering writers’ block and identifying possible reasons; finding time to write; tips to keep from getting distracted, dealing with other aspects of the writing life like jealousy.

Jean can talk about any aspect of writing fiction, ranging from production of the material to narrative design and structuring a novel. Jean enhances her talk with photos and video in a Powerpoint.

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Keynote: “Beyond Words: Nurturing Identity and Connection – the Crucial Role of Language in My Life"

In this thought-provoking and inspiring talk, Jean Kwok delves into the intricate interplay between language, identity, and the immigrant experience. Highlighting her personal experience as a first-generation immigrant who went from working in a Chinatown sweatshop as a child to becoming an international bestselling author, this keynote is a journey through the nuanced ways in which language acts as a foundational pillar, shaping the very essence of an person’s sense of self and their connection to the world around them. This talk provides a deeper understanding of the pivotal role language plays in shaping identities, fostering connections within communities, and promoting a more inclusive and empathetic society.

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Keynote: “Penning Identity: Crafting Stories of Self and Belonging through Creative Writing”

Jean Kwok leads students on an enriching exploration of the intersection between creative expression and personal identity. She delves into the art of crafting narratives that resonate with our authentic selves. Participants will learn how to infuse their unique experiences, cultural backgrounds and personal perspectives into their creative writing. Through various exercises and techniques, she will unveil the essence of individuality and belonging, empowering students to embrace their own stories and articulate them in compelling and meaningful ways.

Jean’s Events

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Teacher Toolkit

Testimonials and Academic Contact

Book Club Discussion Questions

Jean’s Media Link

Honors, Awards & Recognition

Jenna Bush Hager’s Today Show Book Club Pick (2019)
Time Must-Read Book (2019)
New York Post Best Book (2019)
Goodreads Choice Awards Semi-Finalist for Mystery & Thriller (2019)
Marie Claire Best Book (2019)
Real Simple Best Book (2019)
Emma Roberts’ Belletrist Book Club Pick (2019)
Best Book of Summer 2019 according to:
Newsweek, Marie Claire, The NY Post, O, The Oprah Magazine, Real Simple, People, Elle, Harper’s Bazaar, Good Housekeeping, Nylon, The Week, The Daily Beast, Publishers Weekly, BookBub, Conde Nast Traveler and more
Hannah Judy Gretz Fellow 2015, Ragdale Foundation
Real Simple’s Best Books of 2014
Woman’s Day’s Best Books of 2014
American Library Association Outstanding Book for the College Bound (2014)
Sunday Times EFG Private Bank Short Story Award shortlist (2012)
Hunter College High School Distinguished Graduate Award (2012)
TAYSHAS High School Reading List (2012)
American Library Association Alex Award (2011)
Orange New Writers title (2011)
John Gardner Fiction Book Award finalist (2011)
Costco Book Pick (2011)
Suburban Mosaic Book of the Year, Adult and High School (2011)
Florida Teens Read (2011)
Salt Lake County Library Reader’s Choice Award (2011)
County-City Library Pick (2011)
Chinese American Librarians Association Best Book Award (2010)
National Blue Ribbon Book (2010)
Barnes & Noble Discover Great New Writers Pick (2010)
Indie Next Pick (2010)
China Daily’s Top 10 Books of 2010
School Library Journal’s List of Best Adult Books 4 Teens (2010)
The Guardian’s Choice of First Novels (2010)
Women & Home’s Top 30 Books of 2010
Goodreads Choice Award Nominee for Fiction (2010)
Goodreads Choice Award Nominee for Debut Author (2010)
Book Bloggers Appreciation Week Best Cultural Book (2010)
About.com’s Best of 2010 Pick
Quality Paperback Book Club New Voices Award nominee (2010)
Bread Loaf Writers’ Conference Scholarship
Columbia University Graduate Writing Division Fellowships
Harvard Club of New York Scholar
John Harvard Scholarship for Academic Achievement of the Highest Distinction
Elizabeth Cary Agassiz Scholarship for Academic Achievement of the Highest Distinction

Media Kit

By clicking the link below you will be directed to a Google Docs Folder
where you can download author photos and cover images.

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