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The Leftover Woman by Jean Kwok
Contemporary fiction

The Leftover Woman

by Jean Kwok

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Quick take

Steeped in atmosphere and mystery, this poignant portrait of motherhood and belonging will have you turning pages.

Good to know

  • Illustrated icon, Icon_Emotional

    Emotional

  • Illustrated icon, Icon_FamilyDrama

    Family drama

  • Illustrated icon, Icon_Immigration

    Immigration

  • Illustrated icon, Icon_Nyc

    NYC

Synopsis

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 risky 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 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.

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Content warning

This book contains scenes that mention infertility and miscarriage and scenes that depict domestic violence.

Free sample

Get an early look from the first pages of The Leftover Woman.
The Leftover Woman

Prologue

May 6, 2022

My beloved, I understand that forgiveness may not be possible. Some deeds cannot be undone. I took someone essential from you that last tragic evening—the blood, so much blood. My hands will never be clean again no matter how hard I scrub. What I was capable of then was only limited by my desire, and my desire could consume the world.

Yet now, so many years later, I write to you because we are both ink and paper to each other. I have marked you as you have marked me, and you are written into the language of my soul. When you think of me, you must only remember glimpses, snapshots taken from a speeding train that you then try to piece into a cohesive narrative. Please, let me construct my truth for you, flawed though it must be. My only hope is your understanding, not in the sense of compassion but simple comprehension.

There is a question that I’m sure you’ve asked yourself again and again, lying alone in your bed, thinking of me. This is my answer. And after you have heard it, I hope that, perhaps, you will come to me.

I confess I have a daydream of you.

One day, there is a knock on my door. It is raining. My head snaps up, my heart flutters. I close my eyes, afraid of the hope that rushes through my body like wine. I make myself take a careful step to the door, and then another. I am dizzy but I must not fall.

Through the glass, I make out a dark figure outside, carrying an umbrella, because in your thoughtful way, you are always prepared. A halo of light illuminates the rain cascading over you. Your jaw is clenched as you peer through the windowpane. You too are apprehensive. You don’t know if you should have come.

I hurry to unlock the door before you can flee. My hands fumble with the knob and finally, I cast it open. We stare at one another a long moment. Despite all our sorrows, despite the days that have passed, we recognize each other. I think you’re the most wondrous thing I’ve ever seen. I restrain myself, though. I must not frighten you more than I already have. A few hot tears escape. I dash them away.

Your breath catches. A smile touches your eyes; a miracle.

You step across my threshold.

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Why I love it

I love a good family drama where the most intimate parts of a character are exposed by familial dynamics. The Leftover Woman is steeped in these dynamics, perfectly set up for me to devour it—but Jean Kwok didn’t stop there. She throws in a mystery too, layering this story with added depths.

First, we meet Jasmine, a Chinese immigrant in 2007 New York. She’s come to the United States to reunite with the daughter taken from her by China’s One Child Policy. Jumping ahead 15 years, Rebecca—a high-powered publishing executive—enters the fold. The book moves between these two timelines, uncovering both women’s secrets as we go. Through Jasmine’s days of searching and nights at grimy clubs in Chinatown, we learn there are plenty of unexpected obstacles in her way. Meanwhile, Rebecca’s seemingly perfect life—enviable husband and a beautiful adopted daughter—begins to fracture after an industry scandal calls everything she knows into question.

The Leftover Woman is a heart-racing and touching story about the lengths mothers will go to for their families, starring two exceptional women who have more in common than at first glance. Kwok’s skills are on full display as each page brims with suspense, heartache, and love. I implore you to pick up The Leftover Woman this month—its emotionally resonant ending will leave you full of hope.

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Member ratings (5,601)

  • Taylor M.

    Tampa, FL

    This is such a beautiful, tragic, and powerful novel. The layers of sacrifice, love, and betrayal go so deep. Kwok touches on the one child rule in China and how that affects so many people ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

  • Judy M.

    Spokane Valley, WA

    Jean Kwok writes such a wonderful story and always throws in an unexpected shocker here and there! I love learning about the Chinese culture through her books told from her life experiences! ♥️♥️

  • Candy R.

    Idaho Falls , ID

    Told from 2 POV’s by Jasmine and Rebecca. The book is about motherhood, family, culture, race and many more to list!I enjoyed this book and it was written very well. I find myself rooting for Jasmine.

  • Megan B.

    Grandville, MI

    I wish the summary didn’t spoil that Rebecca & Jasmine were connected by a child. That would have been a lovely twist! Excellent read with beautiful language, descriptions, & characters. Great twists!

  • Anna C.

    Shreveport, LA

    I can’t stop thinking about this.A woman travel to the United States to find the daughter that she believed had died in childbirth. her pain, her struggle her love are so real. As well as her hope

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