Ingrid Yung is perfect – or at least, that’s the façade she likes to present in the hyper-competitive law firm of Parsons Valentine & Hunt. She’s a ‘twofer’ for the firm, the only Chinese-American and the only woman on the partner track. In the firm’s ‘good old boys club’, Ingrid found success by being twice as good as anyone else for half the recognition. But when a racist outbreak mars the company’s good name, Ingrid is forced to divert attention from a career-making legal deal to the company’s new diversity initiative, a move that frustrates her and infuriates her coworkers.
Ingrid is such a fantastically lived-in character, the sort of narrator whose wry asides really give her world the kind of color and life needed to stand out. The strength of Ingrid’s voice gives author Helen Wan a lot of leeway when it comes to dealing with the sometimes-heavy legalese that dominates the middle portion of the book. Segments that could have been dry and ponderous fly by as Wan deftly blends legal action with interesting, often unpredictable personal drama.
Of course, the strength of Ingrid’s character comes pretty directly at the expense of the rest of the cast. Because we see the world through Ingrid’s eyes, some character reversals and plot twists may seemingly come out of nowhere, dictated more by the necessity of the story than by an internal consistency of character. It only rarely really hurts the book, and even there canny readers will have noted plenty of hints about the character’s true face, but it’s something that may frustrate some, particularly in the book’s too-brief epilogue that places a number of minor characters in major roles seemingly out of nowhere.
But, you know, none of that really changed how I felt about the book in the end. Despite its occasional issues, The Partner Track is a fantastic debut novel, the sort of character-driven legal drama you don’t want to put down even after you finished. The Partner Track isn’t a must-read novel because of its dedication to social justice, but because of its winning protagonist, crisp prose, and addictively enjoyable story. Its progressive, unique point of view is just the icing on top of an already-delicious cake.
Cal is a writer, librarian and critic in Pittsburgh, PA. He has been reviewing books and graphic novels for nearly five years, contributing to read/RANT Comic Reviews and a number of other sites.
Review copy was provided free of any obligation by St. Martin’s Press. No monetary or any other form of compensation was received.