Searching for Sylvie Lee by Jean Kwok, 4 Stars

There is just something so mysterious about the Chinese Culture. And somewhat by coincidence, this one showed up at the top of my TBR list the morning after I watched The Farewell – why, BTW was so good with all the feels. My 5-year-old didn’t agree because he couldn’t read the subtitles, but it wasn’t for him anyways.

The same thing happened to me last February when I had visited China Town in San Francisco, then on the flight home, started reading Natalie Tan’s Book of Love and Fortune, which is set in the place I just visited. I don’t do these things on purpose, but maybe subconsciously?

The Chinese culture is so mysterious and rich to those of us outsiders. And so much of the culture seems to be wrapped up in traditions and the foods. And I’m all about those Chinese foods. I actually refused to eat Chinese food for the first half of my life, but I’m making up for lost time now. I have no idea what was wrong with my taste buds!

So what did I think of Searching for Sylvie Lee? Read on!

From the Publisher:

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.

My Review:

Sylvie is everything. She’s beautiful, smart, successful and lucky in love. At least that’s how it looks when she suddenly goes missing. No one is more concerned than her younger sister, Amy, the slightly awkward, single, still living at home, younger sister. So even though she has never left New York City, she jumps on a plane to the Netherlands to find her sister.

The story is told from the perspective of Sylvia, Amy and their mother. And as the story slowly unfolds, dancing between flashbacks and present day we discover the whole story of Sylvia. That she was raised by her grandma, hated by her aunt, and the awkward kid when she came to America.

Searching for Sylvia Lee is the best kind of literary mystery. It weaves together three cultures – Dutch, Chinese and American. It’s mysterious, thoughtful, surprising and tragic. And while I found the ending to be a little abrupt, I enjoyed the book as a whole.

I would recommend this one to fans of Everything I Never Told You, The Dreamers, and Things You Save in the Fire. This one is available now.


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