Monday, September 23, 2013

Review: The Partner Track by Helen Wan

The Partner Track by Helen Wan: Ingrid Yung is a rising star at the Manhattan law firm of Parsons Valentine and Hunt LLP. She dedicates herself to meeting the many demands of the partners and after almost nine years of glowing reviews, she is firmly on the "partner track". As the daughter of Chinese immigrants, Ingrid feels a tremendous amount of responsibility to be successful in an effort to repay her parents for all their sacrifice. As the announcement of new partners nears, Helen is asked to take on an important deal and to close it in record time. She gladly takes on the challenge but is less enthused when she is asked to be a champion for the firm's diversity initiative. Can Ingrid bear the burden of her parent's expectations, be the firm's diversity darling and close this major deal on her way to partner?

Ingrid Yung attended Yale undergrad and then Columbia Law before arriving at Parsons Valentine. Working in NYC at a top law firm fulfilled a dream that had taken root at a young age. While visiting a friend of her parents in Manhattan as a young girl, Ingrid looked out the window of their exclusive apartment building and mused:
I could not stop looking and looking out that window, at the deep violet hue spreading across the sky. It felt as if the day's humiliations were draining from my body, and I was waking up fresh. I had never wanted to belong to anything more than to that shimmering landscape of office towers lit up against the dark New York sky. Each individual glittering box of light - like gems strung along a necklace - seemed to me to be a tiny, oblong window onto success, acceptance, respect, that is to say, a place in the world. 
Getting to NYC and into one of those glittering boxes of light has not been easy - Ingrid has succeeded against a lot of odds. All the women who started at Parsons Valentine with her eight years ago have now left the firm; some left to pursue careers with less challenging hours and expectations while some left to have families. Ingrid is surrounded by an "old boys club" where subtle, and often not subtle, gender discrimination abounds. Being a "two-fer", a woman and person of color, Ingrid has also faced thinly veiled racism. With single-minded focus, however, Ingrid has ignored these obstacles and succeeded by keeping the prize of partner squarely in her sights. With the advent of the diversity initiative, however, Ingrid is beginning to give more consideration to the sleights and inequities she has faced.

My Thoughts
This smartly written debut novel takes on big topics like the glass ceiling and racism but packaged in a story line that makes these bigger themes very accessible. Ingrid is an appealing heroine - she is smart, direct and just flawed enough to make a reader like her and most importantly, to relate to her. She has a touch of idealism but is not naive and although she is bothered by the lack of diversity at the firm and the lack of women at the top, she wants to make partner more than anything else. That raw ambition is impressive.

As a woman in corporate America, I saw much in this book to which I can relate. The subtle discrimination that takes place when men at the top of the ladder give opportunity and access to those that look a lot like them is very real and you ignore it at work at your own peril. I don't believe that is is deliberate but that it represents an unconscious bias and one we must all stay vigilant in order to ensure fair play for everyone.

Finally, I could relate to Ingrid's feelings as a first generation American. The quote above reflects thoughts not unlike my own about living and working in NYC. The theme of fitting in and being accepted as the daughter of immigrants is not a primary one in the novel but the author weaves it in expertly and it serves to further flesh out Ingrid's character. I definitely recommend this debut novel!

I received an ARC of this book for review from Wunderkind PR. 


  1. Oh yes, the good ol' boy network is still alive and well in corporate America. This book sounds good to me!

  2. Thanks for the review. Looks like a good read.

  3. Sounds like just the kind of book I like to read to break up the heavier stuff. I never like to go to straight fluff; I prefer something that's still smart.

  4. I'm pleased to see a mainstream book with an ABC protagonist in a corporate world challenging the racism and sexism in the industry. Fine review!

  5. Thanks for your review. It sounds good.

    Thanks for stopping by my blog, Colleen. Hope all is going well for you. Long time since we have chatted and since we saw each other in New York this spring.

    Take care.

    Silver's Reviews
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