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January 21, 2022

Joan is Okay by Weike Wang ~ a Review

by Donna Huber

Joan is Okay is my first book by Weike Wang. I was drawn to the story because it featured a single woman who didn't feel the need to get married. As a single woman who has never married, I was excited to see someone like me in a book. It is rare to have a main character that doesn't develop a romantic relationship over the course of the story. 

Amazon affiliate links are used on this site. A free book was provided for an honest review.

Joan is Okay
January 2022; Random House; 978-0525654834
audio, ebook, print (224 pages); women's fiction

While I liked Joan, she isn't anything like me. She doesn't have a life outside of work. She wants to be at work more than anything - it is where she feels at home. 

Joan is an Asian-American, born in the U.S. to Chinese immigrants, who works as an ICU physician in New York City.  She has an older brother who was left behind in China for several years while their parents established themselves in the U.S. (apparently her parents never told her she had a brother until he arrived in the U.S.). Their parents returned to China as soon as Joan went off to college (Harvard).

Having read memoirs of immigrants, I know that life is hard for them - especially for Chinese immigrants it seems. Children are often pushed to succeed, to make their parents' sacrifice worth it. I'm sure this feeling of obligation was especially acute for Joan as it appears that her parents never really wanted to be in the U.S. 

The story begins with the death of Joan's father and her whirlwind trip to China for the funeral - she flew there and back in a weekend. She doesn't seem to be upset about it in the way many people would. Some of that probably has to do with how absent he has been in her life. When he lived in the U.S. he worked long hours to provide for the family. Though he is a successful businessman in China, when he travels to the U.S. on business he barely has time for a cup of coffee with her. There's a scene where he comes to the hospital to see her but doesn't want to pay the $18/hour parking fee because he can't stay the whole hour. I'm frugal, but this seems to be a little too much and if he didn't want to pay the fee why didn't he make plans to meet her outside of work? I digress. I do think she is sad about his passing in her own way - her way of grieving is just different.

I think in many ways Joan is like her father - at one point she realizes she has her father's hands. She also doesn't feel the need to spend money. When she returns home from China she exchanges the first-class ticket her brother had bought for coach. Her brother has definitely embraced the be super successful obligation. He and his wife are in finance - though his wife now is a stay-at-home mom to their three boys. They have plenty of money and want to flaunt it. They host extravagant parties and Tami only shops at the finest stores. 

Joan probably makes every bit as much money as they do - there's a scene where the director gives her a raise and because she doesn't respond the way he expected he gives her more money - afraid he has offended her. But Fang and Tami do not understand why Joan isn't living the good life. He keeps telling her to move to Greenwich, CT (where they live) and go into private practice so she doesn't have to work so much.

Joan doesn't have any friends. I think she thinks of her co-workers as friends but she doesn't see them outside of the hospital. Then she gets a new neighbor and he is very friendly. It's not just Joan he is friendly with but with the whole building - he very much wants to build a sense of community. And I think he is good for Joan. I hope they can continue their friendship.

This story takes place sometime before the pandemic, but it does come up towards the end. It gives another opportunity to touch on the themes of cultural differences and racism that are an undercurrent throughout the novel. For readers that don't want to be reading about the pandemic - it is a very short section of the story and it is just about the really early days (i.e. March 2020). When it is mentioned how quickly China was able to get the disease under control another character asks if people would be as compliant as Chinese citizens. We know how "lockdown" went in the U.S. and when I read this announcement from the Chinese government, I wondered how well this would have gone over in the U.S., "unless you wish death upon others, be a good citizen and stay inside."

I felt like this book was "a slice of life" kind of story. It definitely gave me a look into the life of someone that isn't that much like me. And while I don't want to be a workaholic like Joan, I think she is content and doesn't see herself as a workaholic. And perhaps she truly isn't as she doesn't need to work as much as she does - she lives below her means (though we know that an apartment in NYC costs a pretty penny). She implies that she would work for free (though she is sensible enough to know that isn't realistic). 

I think this book would be great for a book club as there is much that could be discussed. MK reviewed Joan is Okay earlier this week so check it out for a different perspective.

Buy Joan is Okay at Amazon

Donna Huber is an avid reader and natural encourager. She is the founder of Girl Who Reads and the author of how-to marketing book Secrets to a Successful Blog Tour.

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  1. Though my life is nothing like Joan’s this premise intrigues me for exactly that reason. Thanks for sharing your thoughts