The Better Mother

Knopf Canada, May 2011
Vintage Canada paperback now available
Finalist for the City of Vancouver Book Award 2012

From a master of family dynamics comes this vivid tale of two misfits who find each other while stumbling toward their own true identities.

In 1958, eight-year-old Danny Lim has been sent to buy cigarettes for his father, when he realizes that he has lost the money. Frantic, he rushes through Vancouver’s Chinatown and behind a nightclub, where he sees Miss Val, a long-time burlesque dancer. Danny is enraptured with her sequined garters and silk robe, and Val, touched by his fascination, gives him a pack of cigarettes and her silk belt.

Years later, Danny spends his days working as a wedding photographer and his nights cruising Stanley Park, far away from the home where his parents and sister live. He realizes that the key to understanding himself and his family lies in his connection to Miss Val, and he is determined to find her.

Before she became the Siamese Kitten, a major player on the North American circuit, Miss Val was Valerie Nealy, a feisty girl growing up in a rundown house beside the Fraser River. But to find the stardom she thought she wanted, she had to make a series of seemingly irrevocable decisions.

Set mostly during an unseasonably hot summer in Vancouver in 1982 when HIV/AIDS was spreading rapidly, The Better Mother brims with undeniable tragedy, but resounds with the power of friendship, change and truth. It will cement Jen Sookfong Lee’s reputation as one of this country’s finest young novelists.

“Lee is an undeniably talented writer.”–The Globe and Mail

“One of these days Lee’s name will appear on all the big awards short lists. You heard it here first.”–NOW Toronto

“An entertaining and gripping tale that will keep readers enthused.”–The Vancouver Sun

“Straight-ahead page-turning brilliance.”–The National Post

“With remarkable facility, Lee breathes life into two characters who lead lives of relative anonymity, interspersed with fleeting bursts of joy and gratification. This novel is a moving example of the ways in which memories can become ‘ghosts, clinging to the body like the anchoring threads of a spider’s web,’ and chance encounters can lead to enduring love.”–The Winnipeg Free Press

“Lee is a fine storyteller, conjuring the histories of her amiable characters and a Vancouver that remains today in the collective memory of its long-time residents. More than a nostalgic montage of times and places, The Better Mother is an evocative portrait of two lonely hearts and their synchronized longings.”–The Georgia Straight