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Impostor Syndrome by Kathy Wang
Contemporary fiction

Impostor Syndrome

by Kathy Wang

Quick take

Big Brother turns out to be Big Sister in this piercing take on Silicon Valley and the misogyny that keeps it ticking.

Good to know

  • Illustrated icon, Icon_NonLinear

    Nonlinear timeline

  • Illustrated icon, Icons_Millenial

    Millennial

  • Illustrated icon, Icon_Snarky

    Snarky

  • Illustrated icon, Icon_Tech

    Tech world

Why I love it

Susie Yang
Author, White Ivy

Julia Kall is a top executive at Tangerine, one of the world’s most valuable technology companies, and—unbeknownst to everyone around her—an undercover Russian spy. Alice Lu is a low-level employee at Tangerine whose only motivation is to not get fired. She also happens to be the person who inadvertently discovers Julia’s secret.

At heart, this book is about two women fighting for the right to make their own decisions against the patriarchal systems of Silicon Valley and the Russian government. Julia’s handler wants her to risk her own position in the company to hack user data, but after years of hard work, Julia loves her job and feels proud of her accomplishments in building Tangerine. Alice, on the other hand, is also facing tough decisions. Inspired by Julia’s boldness, she seeks justice for a crime committed against her mother years earlier. As the two women learn more and more of each other’s true identities, a cat-and-mouse game ensues and both of their lives are forever changed.

As a Chinese-American woman who has worked in tech, I rooted for every character. In Julia and Alice, I saw my own strengths and weaknesses, insecurities and aspirations. This book is an impeccably-plotted and snarky page-turner, and its portrayal of Silicon Valley is so accurate that I laughed out loud a few times. Impostor Syndrome will hook you in until the very last page.

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Synopsis

In 2006 Julia Lerner is living in Moscow, a recent university graduate in computer science, when she’s recruited by Russia’s largest intelligence agency. By 2018 she’s in Silicon Valley as COO of Tangerine, one of America’s most famous technology companies. In between her executive management (make offers to promising startups, crush them and copy their features if they refuse); self-promotion (check out her latest op-ed in the WSJ, on Work/Life Balance 2.0); and work in gender equality (transfer the most annoying females from her team), she funnels intelligence back to the motherland. But now Russia's asking for more, and Julia’s getting nervous.

Alice is a first-generation Chinese American whose parents are delighted she’s working at Tangerine (such a successful company!). Too bad she’s slogging away in the lower echelons, recently dumped, and now sharing her expensive two-bedroom apartment with her cousin Cheri, a perennial “founder’s girlfriend”. One afternoon, while performing a server check, Alice discovers some unusual activity, and now she’s burdened with two powerful but distressing suspicions: Tangerine’s privacy settings aren’t as rigorous as the company claims they are, and the person abusing this loophole might be Julia Lerner herself.

The closer Alice gets to Julia, the more Julia questions her own loyalties. Russia may have placed her in the Valley, but she's the one who built her career; isn’t she entitled to protect the lifestyle she’s earned? Part page-turning cat-and-mouse chase, part sharp and hilarious satire, Impostor Syndrome is a shrewdly-observed examination of women in tech, Silicon Valley hubris, and the rarely fulfilled but ever-attractive promise of the American Dream.

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Preview

Member thoughts

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All (5206)
Love (1164)
Like (3032)
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5287 ratings
  • 22% Love
  • 57% Like
  • 19% Dislike
  • Westerville, OH

    I didn’t think I was gonna love it. I was so happy that a serious book let everyone have a happy ending. I sometimes think authors forget fiction doesn’t necessarily need to have a realistic endings.

  • ALBUQUERQUE, NM

    Being a lady in Silicon Valley tech seems intense, as is being a Russian spy. Interesting to see the different trajectories of Julia and Alice, as they deal with patriarchal environment. Surprising ❤️

  • Newhall, CA

    This book holds you at arm’s length, never really letting you warm to the characters. By the end, I believed that was completely by design. This is no espionage thriller—just a satisfying slow burn.

  • Longview, TX

    Rich, high achiever, spy Julia can’t escape the emotional labor and uneven work load expected of women. Not even her intelligence network listens to her instincts. Hoping Alice would be her protégé!

  • Cincinnati , OH

    I have really enjoyed this story, though I'm not sure how I would particularly describe it. I do know that this is a character based story, so wouldn't recommend it to anyone who needs big explosive,

  • Farmington Hills, MI

    Very current as to social media and the political landscape that we are currently facing as well as a good story. As it ended was looking for more but pretty certain there will be another following .

  • Somerville, MA

    I loved this book & read it in 2 days! You have sympathy for all the characters. It feels as though there are no "bad guys". The lesson at the heart of this story is we're all trying to do our best.

  • Troutdale, OR

    This was fun spy story set in the tech world. As the main character gets more and more pressure from Russia she pushes back all while a new young employee is starting to figure out she’s a spy.

  • Honolulu, HI

    I see myself in Julia, and it really made the book pop (and prompted some introspection). Her mix of vulnerability and ruthlessness made me root for her, though she is the books' evident villain.

  • Clackamas, OR

    This book is poignant and well written. The characters are well developed and relatable while committing privacy crimes. It provokes the question that we've all been thinking: is anything private?

  • Oakland, CA

    This book was a page turner! Equal parts foreign spy mystery and Silicon Valley drama. Would highly recommend for anyone looking for a light but entertaining novel to take them away from reality.

  • Winter Springs, FL

    At times I was rooting for each character. Other times hoping for their demise. A very entertaining read. Love how it highlights, in a non cliche way, the difficulty women face in the workforce.

  • Mount Rainier, MD

    Stayed up too late reading this and was on the edge of my seat, but the author didn’t quite execute the landing. Nevertheless, the meat of the story was fantastic. Amazing social commentary.

  • Carbondale, IL

    The story yelling at times during this book got discombobulated, some paragraphs would be flashbacks and others would be current. All that aside, great story! I didn’t expect the ending!

  • St. Paul, MN

    I enjoyed this book way more than I thought I would! Russian spies? Silicone valley? I thought it would be trite, but it was a fast-paced, fun read I couldn’t put down. Highly recommend!

  • Vienna, VA

    Compulsively readable. This is a great blend of classic espionage fiction with needed discussion of women in tech and the tech culture in general. Complex characters without easy answers.

  • Monroe, WA

    As a recruiter in big tech I was fascinated by this view of Silicon Valley. The characters were fascinating but unlikeable, which is my favorite kind ???? I really enjoyed this read!

  • Foster City, CA

    As a current Bay Area resident, I loved the detailed writing and multi-character perspectives. They feel so genuine and ring true with some of my own experiences in the workplace.

  • Minneapolis, MN

    A quick and engrossing read. I loved the layered perspective around sexism, and found the main character fascinating. I still have not decided if I liked her or hated her!

  • Vernal , UT

    Surprising I really enjoyed this book. It’s nothing I usually pick. I always go for the thrillers. I will say it’s kinda boring at times but keep going for that end.

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