Every inch of the sleeve was intricately embroidered with richly colored threads, creating pictures as detailed as if they were paintings. Inara knew nothing of textiles or sewing, but even she could tell this sleeve was not merely a piece of clothing, but a work of art.

he smallest items can hold centuries of secrets...

Inara Erickson is exploring her deceased aunt's island estate when she finds an intricately embroidered piece of fabric hidden in the house. As she peels back layer upon layer of the secrets it holds, Inara's life becomes interwoven with that of Mei Lien, a young Chinese girl mysteriously driven from her home a century before. Through the stories Mei Lien tells in silk, Inara uncovers a tragic truth that will shake her family to its core — and force her to make an impossible choice.

Inspired by true events, Kelli Estes's brilliant and atmospheric debut serves as a poignant tale of two women determined to do the right thing, and the power of our own stories.

"This story is compelling, heart wrenching, and absolutely a beautiful read." — Vintage Books
"The Girl Who Wrote In Silk is a beautiful story that brought me to tears more than once, and was a testament to the endurance of the human spirit, and the human heart. A powerful debut that proves the threads that interweave our lives can withstand time and any tide, and bind our hearts forever."
— Susanna Kearsley
(author of A Desperate Fortune and The Firebird)
"Vibrant and tragic, The Girl Who Wrote In Silk explores a horrific, little-known era in our nation’s history. Estes sensitively alternates between Mei Lien, a young Chinese-American girl who lived in the late 1800s, and Inara, a modern recent college grad who sets Mei Lien’s story free."
— Margaret Dilloway
(author of How to Be an American Housewife and Sisters of Heart and Snow)
"The Girl Who Wrote in Silk is a beautiful, elegiac novel as finely and delicately woven as the title suggests. Kelli Estes spins a spellbinding tale that illuminates the past in all its brutality and beauty, and the humanity that binds us all together."
— Susan Wiggs
#1 New York Times bestselling author
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Reviews of The Girl Who Wrote In Silk

"A touching and tender story about discovering the past to bring peace to the present." — Duncan Jepson, Author

For Book Clubs

Discussion Questions

For a printout of the Reading Group Guide included in the back of the book, click here. Note, there are spoilers!

Bonus Questions!

  1. Fill in the blank: What would the title of your life story be? “The Girl/Boy Who ___________.”
  2. The anti-Chinese sentiment grew so large that in 1882 the U.S. government created immigration laws preventing Chinese people from entering the country (repealed in 1943). The topic of immigration has been a hot topic in the news lately with relation to the Syrian refugee crisis as well as the U.S. Presidential election candidates’ differing views on illegal immigrants and border patrol. Do you feel various world governments have learned anything from the past? Is there a better answer to these issues than how governments are dealing with them now?
  3. Orcas Island feels magical to Inara in such a way that she knows she belongs there, but can’t really explain why. Have you ever felt that way about a place you’ve visited or lived? What was it that spoke to your soul?

Food and Beverage Guide

These ideas either appear in the book or are inspired by the characters. Have an idea to add to the list? Email Kelli.


  • Saltine crackers (chapter one)
  • Preserved cabbage and onions mixed with rice and broth (chapter two)
  • Breadsticks (chapter nine)
  • Biscuits (chapter thirteen, fifteen, sixteen, eighteen) with blackberry jam
  • Carrots and cucumbers, garden salad (chapter thirteen)
  • Bacon (chapter fifteen)
  • Smoked salmon
  • Steamer clams
  • Clam chowder
  • Apples
  • Egg rolls
  • Chili wontons

Main Course

  • Fried ham and potatoes with dried apples (chapter six)
  • Canned salmon and biscuits (chapter thirteen)
  • Steamed fish with preserved olives (chapter thirteen)
  • Rabbit stew (chapter eighteen)
  • Grilled salmon (chapter twenty-one)
  • Clay pot chicken (chapter twenty-one)
  • Chinese take-out
  • Fish tacos


  • Preserved plums (chapter two)
  • Store-bought cookies (chapter nine)
  • Blackberry Cobbler (chapter thirteen)
  • Leftover rice mixed with diced apples, cinnamon and sugar (chapter twenty-four)
  • Scones (chapter twenty-six)
  • Apple Pie



Want to see the books Kelli used in her research for The Gril Who Wrote In Silk? Download the bibliography here.