January Online Book Club: Searching for Sylvie Lee

January Online Book Club: Searching for Sylvie Lee

Online Book Club: What is it?

Join us for a book club that’s an entirely online experience.  All titles will be available as on-demand eBooks from Hoopla, but may also be available in other downloadable and physical formats.

We’ll use Zoom to meet virtually on the third Tuesday of each month at 7 PM to discuss our chosen book.  Register here for our first session on January 19.  If you can’t make the meeting, that’s OK! You can still participate by reading the book, learning more about it from this post, and sharing your thoughts in the comments.

Get involved

The January Online Book Club title is Searching for Sylvie Lee by Jean Kwok.  Check it out in any of these formats:

Register for our live Zoom discussion on Tuesday, January 19, 2021 at 7:00pm.

About Searching for Sylvie Lee

Searching for Sylvie Lee
Searching for Sylvie Lee by Jean Kwok

From the author’s website

A poignant and suspenseful drama that untangles the complicated ties binding three women—two sisters and their mother—in one Chinese immigrant family and explores what happens when the eldest daughter disappears and a series of family secrets emerge, from the New York Times bestselling author of Girl in Translation.

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.

About Jean Kwok

Jean Kwok
Jean Kwok

From the author’s website

Jean Kwok is the award-winning, New York Times and international bestselling author of Searching for Sylvie LeeGirl 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 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, and the Sunday Times EFG Short Story Award international shortlist. She has appeared on The Today Show and spoken at many schools and venues including Harvard University, Columbia University, 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. Her beloved brother Kwan passed away in a tragic plane accident and was the inspiration behind Searching for Sylvie Lee. Jean is trilingual, fluent in Dutch, Chinese, and English, and studied Latin for seven years. She lives in the Netherlands with her husband, two sons, and four cats.

Readalikes for Searching for Sylvie Lee

Discussion questions for Searching for Sylvie Lee

From ReadingGroupGuides

1. How do the members of the Lee family deal with being measured against stereotypes, language barriers, and others’ perceptions? Have you ever felt like an outsider?

2. Discuss the relationship between Amy and Sylvie. How do the siblings both understand and mystify one another?

3. How is this immigrant family like others you’ve seen or read about? What about their experiences do you think are universal or unique?

4. How does Kwok represent the different languages in each chapter? Did any idioms or word orders surprise you or make you think? Why do you think Kwok chose to depict language this way?

5. This novel says a great deal about the influence our families can have on us. How did Amy and Sylvie’s different upbringings shape them and their choices? Did anything about your own upbringing strongly influence you?

6. Did your perception of Ma change when you read her chapters? How did she appear through other’s eyes in comparison to how she sees herself? Do you think others see you the way you really are?

7. Do you think any of the characters in the novel are reliable narrators? Can any narrator be truly reliable, or are we all colored by our perceptions and misunderstandings?

8. What is the price of the American dream? Who pays for it? How does the lifestyle in Europe compare?

9. Amy and Sylvie perceive the Netherlands differently. How do their impressions of the landscape and the people — especially Filip and Lukas — demonstrate their own characters?

10. Has reading this novel deepened your understanding of the implications of casual racism, even toward well-integrated people? Did any instances in the novel surprise you? Have you ever encountered situations like this in your life?

11. Different men love Sylvie in this novel. How did their love differ, and why?

12. Why do you think Helena resented Sylvie? How deserved do you think it was?

13. There are so many secrets that the characters keep to themselves. What do you wish they had shared with each other, and how might this have changed the plot? Are secrets always bad, or are they sometimes necessary? Have you ever kept secrets from people you loved?

14. Do you think the novel’s title, “Searching for Sylvie Lee,” has multiple meanings?


Remember to tell us what you think! Join us for our Zoom discussion or comment on this post and let us know your thoughts about Searching for Sylvie Lee.

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Emily is the manager of the Williamsburg Branch of Clermont County Public Library.

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