In the hands of Weike Wang...Joan’s dry wit is downright hilarious, sometimes unintentionally, sometimes as a coping mechanism. Although she keeps it under wraps, Joan is angry ...Wang doesn’t mute Joan’s rage, but leaves it always bubbling under the surface ... As a child, Joan was sent to a school counselor because she 'answered questions strangely' and did not smile. In adult Joan, Wang has given us a character so unusual and unapologetically herself that you can’t help wanting to hang out with her, knowing full well that she wants nothing more than to be left alone ... Wang writes Joan’s awkwardness and the tension it spawns so well, even the reader cringes ... Death and boxes feature prominently in Joan’s story, as she grapples with mortality and navigates both the safety and constraints of self-confinement ... Through funny, weird and touching moments, Wang depicts Joan’s and her mother’s grief as messy, nonlinear and palpable ... In taut prose, Wang masterfully balances the many terrors of this pandemic alongside Joan’s intimate, interior struggles. Reading the hospital scenes set in the spring of 2020, revisiting the devastating toll this virus has taken and continues to take, this reader was not OK ... Throughout the novel, Joan’s wry humor is sometimes punctuated by moments of unexpected tenderness ... Like Joan herself, Wang’s narrative is at once laser-focused and multilayered. She raises provocative questions about motherhood, daughterhood, belonging and the many definitions of 'home.'
Welcome to the strange and ever more fascinating world of a woman who aspires to be average ... In every brisk sentence of her second novel, Weike Wang takes us deep into the mind—and the well-defended heart—of the kind of self-erasing, 800-on-the-S.A.T. high achiever we walk past on the street every hour. And her story is powered by a voice, declarative and vinegary and acute, that quickly becomes indelible ... Rarely has cross-cultural bewilderment been rendered more hilariously, or with such understated poignancy. For underneath the story of clashing perspectives is a much more human tale ... And though her embrace of an impersonal lifestyle makes her sound a little like the Japanese protagonist of the best-selling novel Convenience Store Woman, she has far-greater depths ... It’s remarkable how much Wang packs into her beguilingly quick and readable 224 pages: a story of immigrant aspiration, a medically informed reflection on the pandemic, a portrait of a woman trying to figure out the culture into which she was born by watching Seinfeld, and an examination of why someone might not want to be different.
In Joan, Wang has created a compelling character, utterly distinct, and the novel is carried by her dispassionate, clear-eyed, and often drily amusing narration. We come to understand her grief not through her own words, but through the quiet maneuvers she employs to sidestep emotion ... the pandemic—that inescapable memento mori—serves as a frame and a catalyst rather than a subject. On account of a particular concatenation of events, Joan is forced to face long-deflected emotional questions. What does family mean for one like hers, that has, in effect, been amputated? ... Such powerful insights will resonate with many, especially those with histories of displacement ... At the same time, Wang occasionally deploys an ironic, almost satirical hyperbole that is engaging and funny, but can shift the novel’s register closer to moralistic fable ... disjunction between the agonizing realism of Joan’s perspective and the cartoonish antics around her serves the novel in certain ways (enabling greater levity in an often dark account) but ultimately muffles the narrative’s consequence.
Wang's novel, in a way, is a sly correction of Hemingway's tragic individualism. Even at the novel's outset, Joan has already achieved her American Dream, and her parents have regained their Chinese Eden ... Joan is Okay takes the reader through the inevitable rise of COVID in New York City, deftly showing the parallel between Joan's present calling and her parents' past labors ... By exploring the spectrum of commitment—from doubts about one's career and cultural identity...to a deep passion for one's calling that seems tantamount to faith in Joan is Okay—Weike Wang has shown us myriad ways to build a sense of home, myriad ways to feel okay in our skin.
Wang writes Joan’s exterior as cool and removed, and much of the novel’s wry humor comes from her seemingly muted emotions ... Joan resists sentimentalizing the death of her father and her fractured relationship with her family. And Wang masterfully manages this emotional landscape on the page. Moments of vulnerability are crowded by Joan’s monologues on sitcoms, the medical field, the suburbs, and life support machines ... On the surface, these quick shifts from thoughtful reflection to seemingly arbitrary dialogue suggest Joan uses deflection to keep from grieving.
...provocative ... Here Wang dissects the titular Joan’s singularity, interrupted by seeming demands from her hospital co-workers, her overfriendly new neighbor, and, most urgently, her immediate family comprised of wealthy older brother Fang, their late father, and surviving mother ... add Wang’s latest to the growing list of pandemic titles.
Weike Wang treats her protagonist with both humor and respect. She never puts a label on Joan’s personality, nor does she make her an object of fun or show how the romantic interest of a neighbor or colleague transforms her. Instead, Joan should be met on her own terms, and readers will need to do a significant amount of reading between the lines to fully understand and appreciate this complex, fascinating character and her motivations.
In the wrong hands, Joan’s story could have been a rom-com with familiar contours or a heavy existential drama. But Joan is such an idiosyncratic character, and Wang’s style so wry and piercing, that the novel is its own category: a character study about otherness set partly against the backdrop of early-pandemic anti-Asian sentiment that manages to be both profound and witty. A novel as one of a kind as its memorable main character.
...profound ... 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.