BookDragon Books for the Diverse Reader

Searching for Sylvie Lee by Jean Kwok [in Booklist]

Just before Grandma died in Amsterdam, Sylvie temporarily rejoined the Tan family to say goodbye. Grandma had been living with the Tans: Ma’s cousin Helena, husband Willem, their son Lukas – for decades. For her first nine years, Sylvie, too, had been the Tans’ responsibility, when Ma and Pa, as new U.S. immigrants, were too poor to raise her. Sylvie’s return to Ma, Pa, and, by then, toddler sister Amy, was understandably challenging, but in the two decades since, Sylvie’s become an exceptionally accomplished woman. When she vanishes, Amy vows to find her beloved sibling.

Bestselling writer Jean Kwok (Girl in Translation) – herself a Dutch resident – unravels Sylvie’s disappearance through three intertwined voices: Amy (youthfully embodied by Angela Lin) serves as narrator-in-the-present; Sylvie (made world-weary by Samantha Quan) begins her story one month earlier; Ma (unevenly articulated by Caroline McLaughlin) reveals too-little, too-late-secrets.

Consistency seems impossible for the tri-part cast, most glaringly with random accents assigned to Grandma as well as Dutch friends Filip and Estelle. Despite annoyances, the strength of Kwok’s dysfunctional family thriller – with biting commentary about global racism, social status, and white male privilege – should keep listeners steadfastly engaged.

Review: “Media,” Booklist, January 3, 2020

Readers: Adult

Published: 2019


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