When Hua Wu arrives in New York City, her life seems destined to resemble that of countless immigrants before her. She spends her hectic days working in a restaurant and her lonesome nights in a crowded tenement, yearning for those she left behind in Fuzhou, China.

But one day everything changes for Hua, when she meets Jane Templeton and her daughter Lily, a two-year-old adopted from China. Worried that Lily will know little about the country of her birth or her native language, Jane eventually decides to hire Hua to be her nanny.

From the moment she steps into Jane’s West Village brownstone, Hua finds herself in a world far removed from the cramped streets of Chinatown or her grandmother’s home in Fuzhou. Soon she is deeply attached to Lily and her adoptive parents. But when cracks show in the beautiful façade, what will Hua do to protect the little girl who reminds her so much of her own past? An elegant and poignant debut novel, Happy Family is an entrancing exploration of love and loss, the familiar and the foreign, and the ties that bind strangers together.


“[Lee] deals with a hot-button issue in a manner neither shy nor didactic, and she invests her characters with humanity when they might easily become sociological types. Happy Family is worth reading for those reasons alone, and serves as the debut of a writer who may well do great work later on.” —San Francisco Chronicle

“Rich and multilayered, Lee’s novel explores what it means to be a part of something, whether it’s a family or a culture. Told in Hua’s sparse, somber voice, the story grabs readers from the start and doesn’t let go until the final page. A truly memorable first outing.” —Booklist (starred review)

“This first novel uncoils slyly, then strikes with startling yet inevitable plot developments that unfold before the reader sees them coming. . . . Hua’s innate intelligence and irreducible sense of self resonate in every observation as she decodes the monied, impulsive lifestyle of the Templeton-Walkers, their cultured friends and the country that they call their own. A powerful debut.” —Kirkus Reviews

“Wendy Lee’s moving and assured first novel unravels the tangled knot of international adoption to reveal its finest, most delicate threads: the uncertainties of parenthood, the unexpected affections between strangers, and, ultimately, the origins of enduring love.” —Dana Sachs, author of The Secret of the Nightingale Palace

“Even just describing the premise of this novel brings a certain anxiety: a Chinese au pair is hired by a white couple who’ve adopted a Chinese daughter. Wendy Lee debuts with a quietly dangerous novel of domestic life, about that anxiety, asking the uncomfortable questions: who do we belong to and who do we belong with, and can we change that? The story moves among some of the new taboos in American life as we live it now, sure-footed and unflinching, funny and smart—a remarkable first novel.” —Alexander Chee, author of Edinburgh

Happy Family is a beautifully written portrait of a young Chinese immigrant finding her way in New York City. Told in lyrical prose and filled with surprising insights, this story is sure to dazzle readers and touch them deeply.” —John Searles, author of Help for the Haunted

“Lee’s sure-footed debut locates the raw nerve connecting two social phenomena—China’s one-child law and the adoption of Chinese babies by American parents. Hua, Lee’s stranger in a strange land, speaks in a soft but firm voice from the ineradicable margin.” —Ed Park, author of Personal Days

“We can endure being unrecognized for just so long. The main character of this beautifully written, passionately accurate novel looks back on her passage to the point at which the isolation became unbearable, and the action she took in response to reaching it: breaking through the first of the concentric circles of people surrounding her—a family—and setting out on a dangerous journey outward. That she survives, that she has stopped moving, that she can tell us about it . . . these are the achievements of this revelatory and original book.” —Chuck Wachtel, author of The Gates

“A delicate and moving coming-of-age story. In deft, sparing prose, this gifted young writer explores New York City through the eyes of a newly arrived Chinese immigrant. At the same time, Ms. Lee finds her way into that civilized wilderness, the human heart.” —Paul Kafka-Gibbons, Los Angeles Times Book Prize–winning author of Love: Enter