Friday, October 25, 2013

Review: The Partner Track by Helen Wan

Sometimes the media reports on someone shattering a glass ceiling. The fact that they are reporting on it being broken just goes to prove that it does still in fact exist. Yes, some people can successfully break through. But those people are still so few and far between that they are newsworthy. In Helen Wan's debut novel, The Partner Track, she writes of one young Chinese-American woman, Ingrid Yung, who is poised to be that newsworthy figurehead, but at what cost?

Ingrid has worked hard, beyond hard, as an associate at the law firm of Parsons, Valentine, and Hunt. She's hung in there and lasted long past the time that most of her fellow class year mates have, her nose to the grindstone, sacrificing everything to her job and the shining promise of the partner track. And now she's poised to take the brass ring. This is the year she's up for partnership. She's been offered a plum role in a high profile, highly profitable corporate merger. With her quick intelligence and her unbeatable work ethic, a partnership should be in the bag. She knows what a partnership would mean to her parents and to the Chinese-American community but she's not sure how far she's willing to go to be the poster child for diversity, especially after a racist incident at the annual outing means the firm hires an outside expert to bolster its tarnished reputation and Ingrid is essentially told to cooperate with him as a condition of her potential partnership.

Wan herself was a lawyer and her experiences in the legal world obviously inform the novel greatly. She has done a good job capturing the "old boy network" that still exists, if after hours and behind closed doors, in many a venerable and prestigious firm. And her Ingrid is believable, worrying that she might be promoted not on her own merit but because she fills in two boxes at once on an Affirmative Action form but also being highly resentful that others might think the same thing. The way that some of the other characters who appear to be in Ingrid's corner turn on her and show their true selves is fairly horrifying but not unexpected given the fact that lip service to political correctness, especially given the firm's stated (if unenforced) position on tolerance, is expedient and forces those who hold repugnant views to hide them carefully. The pace of the narrative was generally good although it did get bogged down in the middle over the legal details of the case on which Ingrid was working. And while the case was interesting enough, it was really Ingrid and the people around her who pushed the book forward rather than the case. It did serve, though, to show how meticulous she was in her due diligence so that the ending of the story could be plausible on every level. Over all, this was an interesting look at ambition, duty, the latent racism no one wants to address or acknowledge, and the cost of achieving a dream.

Thanks to Staci from Wunderkind PR for sending me a copy of this book to review.

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