The novel opens after the death of Suyuan Woo, an elderly Chinese woman and the founding member of the Joy Luck Club. Suyuan has died without fulfilling her "long-cherished wish": to be reunited with her twin daughters who were lost in China. Suyuan’s American-born daughter, Jing-mei (June) Woo, is asked to replace her mother at the Joy Luck Club’s meetings.
At the first meeting, Jing-mei learns that her long-lost half-sisters have been found alive and well in China. The other three elderly members of the Club – her mother’s best friends and Jing-mei’s "aunties" – give Jing-mei enough money to travel to China and meet her sisters. Essentially, Jing-mei has the opportunity to fulfill her mother’s greatest wish. Jing-mei’s aunties assign her the task of telling her twin sisters about the mother they never knew. The only problem is, Jing-mei feels like she never really knew her own mother.
This simple premise allows the book to cast a much wider net, as it raises the question of how well daughters know their mothers. The other three members of the Joy Luck Club – Ying-ying, Lindo, and An-mei – all have wisdom that they wish to impart to their independent, American daughters. However, their daughters – Lena, Waverly, and Rose – all have their own perspectives on life as Americans. This gives the book a total of eight perspectives and life stories to draw from. The novel is comprised of sixteen chapters, with each woman (with the exception of Suyuan) getting two chapters with which to tell her story.
At the end of the book, Jing-mei flies to China to meet her half sisters. She is extremely apprehensive about meeting them. When the sisters do meet for the first time, they instantly hug and cry. Jing-mei’s mother’s wish has been fulfilled, and through the process, Jing-mei feels that she has come closer to her mother.