NEW YORK TIMES EDITORS’ CHOICE • A witty, moving, piercingly insightful new novel about a marvelously complicated woman who can’t be anyone but herself, from the award-winning author of Chemistry
“A deeply felt portrait . . . With gimlet-eyed observation laced with darkly biting wit, Weike Wang masterfully probes the existential uncertainty of being other in America.”—Celeste Ng, author of Little Fires Everywhere
Joan is a thirtysomething ICU doctor at a busy New York City hospital. The daughter of Chinese parents who came to the United States to secure the American dream for their children, Joan is intensely devoted to her work, happily solitary, successful. She does look up sometimes and wonder where her true roots lie: at the hospital, where her white coat makes her feel needed, or with her family, who try to shape her life by their own cultural and social expectations.
Once Joan and her brother, Fang, were established in their careers, her parents moved back to China, hoping to spend the rest of their lives in their homeland. But when Joan’s father suddenly dies and her mother returns to America to reconnect with her children, a series of events sends Joan spiraling out of her comfort zone just as her hospital, her city, and the world are forced to reckon with a health crisis more devastating than anyone could have imagined.
Deceptively spare yet quietly powerful, laced with sharp humor, Joan Is Okay touches on matters that feel deeply resonant: being Chinese-American right now; working in medicine at a high-stakes time; finding one’s voice within a dominant culture; being a woman in a male-dominated workplace; and staying independent within a tight-knit family. But above all, it’s a portrait of one remarkable woman so surprising that you can’t get her out of your head.
APPLE BOOKS REVIEW
Weike Wang’s short, luminous novel is about a lot of things. It’s about the immigrant experience, the push and pull between one’s adopted home and the culture of one’s homeland. It’s about Joan, a workaholic ICU doctor in New York City who must figure out who she is—and what she wants—outside of the hospital. It’s about how Joan navigates her fraught relationships with her wealthy brother, who pesters her to move nearby to the ritzy town of Greenwich, Connecticut, and her mother, who is visiting from China after her husband’s death and is unhappy to be stranded in the U.S. because of the emerging COVID-19 pandemic. And Wang’s novel is also about grief, love, forgiveness, and the journey of making peace with who you are. With its warm humor and charming, nonconventional heroine, Joan Is Okay will make you feel better about this crazy, messy life.
Wang's profound latest (after Chemistry) portrays two generations of a grieving Asian American family. Joan, a 36-year-old self-possessed physician, works long hours at her Manhattan hospital's ICU and lives alone in a sparsely decorated apartment despite the insistence of her well-to-do brother, Fang, that she move to Connecticut to be closer to him and his family. But when their father, who has lived in Shanghai with their mother ever since Joan went to college, dies after a stroke, Joan begins to feel unmoored. Their mother then returns to the U.S. after 18 years, only to be stranded in Connecticut due to the pandemic travel bans. Because of language barriers, her old age, and lack of a driver's license, she depends on her children to get around and to communicate. Wang offers candid explorations of family dynamics ("berating is love, and here I was at thirty-six, still being loved," Joan reflects after Fang shames her for not going with him and their mother on a fancy Colorado skiing trip), and Joan's empathy for her ailing patients, as well as her disapproving brother and sister in law, are consistently refreshing. It adds up to a tender and enduring portrayal of the difficulties of forging one's own path after spending a life between cultures. Agent: Joy Harris, Joy Harris Literary.