ISA Libraries’ Author Series with Jean Kwok

On the eve of International Women’s Day and as a wonderful highlight for the Upper School Library’s celebration of Women’s History Month, Monday 7 March we welcomed author Jean Kwok for the inaugural event of our new ISA Libraries’ Author Series. Jean Kwok is the award-winning, New York Times and international bestselling author of the novels Searching for Sylvie Lee, Girl 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, a thriller and family story set in Amsterdam, was selected for the Today Show’s  #ReadWithJenna Book Club and featured in numerous publications and best-of lists.

Kwok began her day at ISA with Ian Kilbride’s Grade 11 and Grade 12 English B students who are currently reading her novel Girl in Translation, an autobiographical coming of age story about language, family, immigration, and resilience. Grade 12 students were preparing for their oral exams based on the novel later that week. All of the students had prepared questions in advance and were able to interview Kwok about her writing and details about Girl in Translation, including the ending that has everyone talking! Students were each able to chat with Kwok about the book, have a photo taken with Jean, and get their individual books signed. It is a very rare and memorable experience for IB DP students to meet the author of one of their syllabus texts. One student shared their excitement with Kwok about reading Girl in Translation: “This is the best book I have read in high school.”

Next, Kwok joined a group of teachers and students for a US Library Lunch discussion about diversity in publishing, sharing insights into her writing life as an Asian woman and providing context for how her stories have been optioned for a variety of media projects including limited series and independent films. Kwok shared some of the ways authors can choose to be involved in producing or writing adaptation scripts, a fascinating glimpse into the Hollywood-style film and streaming service industries. The US Library held a drawing for three free copies of Kwok’s books that participants could win for their home libraries and have signed after lunch.

The last presentation of the day was with Jen Gryzenhout’s Grade 11 Language and Literature students and focused on Kwok’s latest novel Searching for Sylvie Lee. A murder mystery and thriller set in the Netherlands, Kwok shared her inspiration to write this particular story surrounding the disappearance of a talented older sister and the impact that disappearance has on her younger sister in particular, as well as her entire Chinese immigrant family. The character Sylvie Lee and her sudden disappearance is based on Kwok’s beloved older brother Kwan’s disappearance while piloting a new plane. Drawing themes and characters connected to her own history has helped Kwok’s books explore and create a truly authentic voice, characters who struggle with the limits of multilingualism and adopted cultures, as well as larger connections to immigrant stories and experiences around the world. 

Please check out the ISA Libraries’ Author Series LibGuide for links to Jean Kwok’s website, information about her books, video interviews, and access to copies of her published short stories.

We are planning to invite Kwok back to ISA next fall after her new short story is published in an exciting story collection starring Miss Jane Marple commissioned by the Agatha Christie estate, where “twelve talented writers will reimagine Marple through their own unique perspective while staying true to the hallmarks of a traditional mystery.” Rumor has it that Miss Marple dances!